Laura Ginn, 28, has made working with animals her métier since she graduated with an M.F.A. in photography from Cranbrook Academy in Michigan in 2010. A video looping on one gallery wall showed her dismantling a deer head in the rain. A photo presented a still life of pelts drying on a rack in her shower. And at this dinner the centerpieces, such as they were, were small piles of rat bones — a tiny section of rib here, a spine there. “They’re all from the rats you are enjoying,” Ms. Ginn said, as people sat down to eat at tables covered with faded American flags. The opening of her exhibition, “Tomorrow We Will Feast Again on What We Catch,” centered on a multicourse meal in which the main ingredients, and aesthetic stars, were rats. The show runs until Aug. 3. Those easily queased should stop reading here.
Twenty people, mostly friends of Ms. Ginn or the gallery owner, Ms. LaViola, nibbled on goat cheese bruschetta topped with rat leg tenderloin, and rat-pork terrine encircled with beef fat, prepared by a chef after much trial and error with his proteins. The rats were shipped from a United States Department of Agriculture-approved West Coast processor that supplies pet owners with humanely killed, individually flash-frozen rodents, in classifications ranging from “jumbo” to “fuzzy.” Seventy five rats were skinned and cooked — and broiled and smoked and grilled — for the dinner, and most guests paid $100 each to attend, signing a liability waiver, some not entirely willingly.
“If I see an entire carcass, I might throw up,” said Clifford Owens, a performance artist. Mr. Owens, who had an exhibition at MoMA PS1 this spring, invoked the daredevil spirit of the performance artist Marina Abramovic, to get himself through the evening. “This is about risk,” he said. But even people with ample gross-out experience were put off. Curtiss Calleo, a founder of the adventure-eating clubthe Gastronauts, who has eaten wild yak and goat brains, wrote on Twitter of his trepidation about ingesting rats. Timothy Hutchings, an artist and video editor who said he’d once worked in an animal sanctuary feeding dead rats to alligators, copped to some squeamishness.
Fear was not the issue. “I like rats,” he said. “They’re friendly. You can train them. They have personalities.” For Ms. Ginn skinning and eating rats represents the survivalist instincts she likes to explore in her work. “To have these sorts of skills, it’s very empowering,” she said. “It makes me feel like I have more control over my world.”
Contemplating urban wildlife in New York naturally led her to rats. “I could’ve gone pigeon,” she allowed. But, she added, “I think people are a little more comfortable with pigeon, and I wanted to put people outside of their comfort zone.”
It was her challenge too: Ms. Ginn was a vegetarian until she decided to do this project last year; her first meat in 16 years was fried rat. “We had it with kind of a spicy dipping sauce,” she said. How’d it taste? “Strange. I didn’t have a good frame of reference.” (Her appetite for irony is robust, though: While she was skinning animals at home, she worked as a pet-sitter.)
Ms. Ginn fed people rats for the first time two weeks ago, at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, where guests learned to skin rodents, and then ate them, barbecued on skewers and as rat tacos. “We drank a lot of moonshine,” said Stuart Horodner, the center’s artistic director, who also attended the New York dinner. “That helped.” (via)
It always starts, and ends, the same way: entering into Oakland’s 19th Street BART station, daydreams of California-style city life and well constructed burritos are jettisoned by an uncomfortably moist train car rank with what could be the smell of a month-old cadaver’s rotten feet. Exiting the car to secure a less musky seat, I resume my daydreams only to realize, in the end, that they were all in vain.
It used to be that people wanted to escape the city in order to find a suburb where you could have a nice family, a nice car, and a nicely matching wardrobe, all safely enclosed within a community gate and white picket fence. The panhandlers, noise, and “urban blight” that contributed to the “realness” of the city had been swapped for an hour commute that put a good deal of distance between yuppies and what they saw as destitution, crime, and poverty. This dream is long since over. With so many people realizing the stunting nature of the anti-social suburban sprawl, the initial exodus of 20-somethings has been followed by legions of tired-looking yuppies who have also given up on the suburbs.
San Francisco is a place that offers at least a semblance of social life in the streets and has a mass-transit system that, being at least semi-functional, can get you home even after chasing large doses of MDMA with multiple Irish carbombs, resulting in an uncontrollable throwing up of copious amounts of last nights frozen pizza onto strangers who you had drunkenly mistook for childhood friends. Who doesn’t want to live in a place where you can simply exit your apartment, walk a few blocks, and end up at a bar filled to the brim with a battalion of apparently creative, interesting patrons? Or, at least, so went my daydreams.
As it stands, the reality is much different. Upon exiting BART and walking down the streets of the Mission, it becomes apparent that San Francisco has transformed in ways that I cannot appreciate. Newly Ipe-planked luxury condominiums with fancy, all glass, automatic underground garage doors, and heated post-industrial concrete polished floors, sit adjacent to coffee shops whose patrons sip on $6-7 dollar coffee while they guiltily donate some small, insignificant pittance towards “saving the third world” on their new high-end Mac gadgets.
In fact, it’s almost as though yuppies had gotten bored of the suburbs and decided to move to the city, only to bring with them the worst parts of the place that they now claim to loathe. Walking down almost any SF sidewalk, you can see what is in fact the real blight: the late-thirty-something upper-management Google/Wells Fargo employee who, armed with a six-plus digit salary and a lengthy history of family money, recently demolished some jenky apartment building in order to have it reconstructed as a suburban home disguised as an edgy urban loft.
Striding through the Mission, my thoughts always tend towards the same conclusion: that despite the perks and quirks that come with living in San Francisco, there really isn’t much left that is all that interesting. Certainly in its heyday, the Mission District had actually housed an engrossing mixture of people—artists, anarchists, musicians, writers, communists, sculptors, hackers, party people, street fashionistas, punks, etc.—but that seems to be largely a thing of the past. Those people do not live in the city anymore; and, frankly, how could they? Rents are monumental, and San Francisco has become an attractive beacon for people who have a taste for something interesting, but are utterly uninteresting by themselves. What monied couples and Googleplex-funded singles alike do not realize is that, having arrived in droves in search for cultural happenings and social life, they have unwittingly killed any semblance of such by way of their own arrival.
Walking back to the Mission Street BART station has, for myself, become a ritual of loathing for my naive dreams of city-like ecstasy. Swearing off SF like the hungover after a night of blackout-level drinking, my brain always begins to scan for any real reason for me to return to the city. And, right when I’m almost certain that there is none, one pops up: burritos.
‘The numbers just aren’t adding up,’ said my best friend, who recently became my business partner in a joint alt venture. We were really good friends, but at the same time, being in business together changed our relationship. We barely even hang out any more. I could hear the tension in his voice. We thought it was a really good idea, emerging markets, new media, old media, building a tribe, getting the word out on social media, reaching consumers both on the internet, and in real life. It was fool proof. We were basically going to be printing buzz money, opening up our own buzz mint. The trouble was, despite all of the buzz, the blog press, the decent turnouts, the merch, the meetings, the important emails, the time we met that famous & successful person who said they liked what we were doing, we were still ONLY making buzz dollars.
I guess I was wrong. Maybe it was a bad idea to start a buzzband / record label / blog / viral meme blog / aggregator of memes / party promotion firm / PR firm / online video series / site on the internet that changes the way that we interpret journalism / diy venue space / playhouse / mumblecore film collective / documentary film series / alt non-profit scam / party photo website / cassette tape label / online design company / microblogging service / alt-fundraising website / vintage store / online vintage store / t-shirt making company / art gallery space / booking agency / food truck / vegan restaurant / creative agency / zine / magazine / alt comedy troupe / [miscellaneous alt venture].
We met with my dad’s friend, who was an accountant, and he told us every thing that we needed to get together in order to formalize our business. The truth was, taking a look at our business led us to realize that we weren’t making any REAL money. It was a tough spot to be in. I second guessed all of our decisions. The time we printed flyers on glossy colored paper instead of just using a DIY copy machine. The time we hired my friend who is a designer to design our website but he overcharged us and left us with a broken website. The time I borrowed my mom’s credit card to fly us to an important music and interactive conference in order to make connections, but we just ended up partying. Although it has been a wild ride, maybe the ride is pulling up to the final terminal. Not even a golden alt calculator could solve this mess. It was truly shaping up to be an Enron-level alt financial conspiracy.
He asked me, “Do you realize that we have never actually made money?”
It was at that moment that I realized that I didn’t actually have an alt business. I was paying to have an identity. Sure, my twitter follower count was admirable, and I did have things to do every night of the week, but what was I really paying for? A mediocre presence in an alternative scene? I struggled to understand what I was trying to become a part of, an undying alt spirit that desperately wanted to contribute something to a community that might not even exist.
“I’m out. This is too much. I’m getting my old job back at my dad’s company,” said my friend.
I wasn’t upset that he was leaving. This whole operation was my idea, anyways, and most of his ideas were super unoriginal and lame. I knew how to keep things authentic. But maybe keeping things authentic wasn’t making any more and bringing in new clients, new visitors. In fact, I wasn’t actually sure what we DID. But I was confident that I could figure it out on my own and utilize my tribe to get the word out that we were doing something different.
I thought about the first days of the business when we would just sit around on the internet and chat about how awesome things were going to get for us. VIP parties, tons of money, press, notoriety, validation from the scene, validation from our parents—we would have EVERYTHING. But maybe it was time to realize that this was never going to happen. The numbers just weren’t adding up.
On days like today, I had to wonder if my entire alternative social experience misled me, leading me to a place where I had nothing to my name. No money, no alt fame, and just a bunch of connections with a bunch of other people who were pretending to be successful, just like me. Don’t get me wrong, this was a valuable existence, and even if I have to begin a new venture, I am confident that it will work out because this experience exposed me to the harsh realities of what it takes to get an alt business off the ground and over the hump. But do I have the energy to do this again? Maybe I’m just not an alternative entrepreneur.
Was my alternative business a mistake?
It was just one of those days where you felt like ________ had everything, and you had nothing.
One year ago today, I got in the driver’s seat of a car that my mother paid for and gave me and drove from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles, California to (at most) flourish and (at least) not die. Ten years ago today, some normal-sized people hijacked some normal-sized planes and flew them into the Twin Towers in New York City, two of the tallest buildings in the United States of America, and killed nearly three thousand people. They killed thousands of people, and they psychologically killed thousands of others and ushered in an age of broken America and they made the date 9/11 into something more than it ever should be. It should be some lame day in mid-September where a lame kid complains about going back to some lame school. Instead, it’s an anniversary.
How many is 3,000? I guess I know the answer to that. It’s a little more than 2,994 and much less than 2,498,670,210,952. But realistically, my brain can’t comprehend more than about 322. That’s how many kids could fit in my high school auditorium, where my twin brother and I once did an interpretative dance as Hitler for a class final (we got an A; suck it, Hitler). I can’t estimate. If I had to guess, I would say there are exactly 100 sites on the Internet. So the tragedy that is 9/11 (or the Holocaust, or Darfur, or…) is too big for my small brain. And there’s a special subset of suburban guilt reserved for the inability to comprehend a horror.
Part of the reason that I can’t make myself feel the grotesque grandeur of 9/11 is that I’ve never been in a tragedy. I’ve experienced bad, but I’ve never experienced tragic in the epic, transformative, Greek sense of the word. Tragedy is like a branding iron. Everyone who lives through it becomes a product of that tragedy. You realize you’re just a slab of meat. You might continue living your life in a fairly normal straight line, but that tragedy knows to whom you belong. You have its smoldering mark on your body.
I’ve never been disfigured by tragedy, but I have felt joy. Transformative joy. Whatever the opposite of 9/11 is, I have felt that. I have experienced the not-small miracle of being able to do what I love. I am healthy enough that I don’t think about how healthy I am. I get to live in the fun house mirror that is Los Angeles. LA is so silly, in the most benign sense of the word. Its streets are stupid and benign. Because I’m privileged and young and white, I am blessed enough to not know about the streets in LA that aren’t silly and stupid and benign.
Because of that, it’s easier for me to imagine one year ago today than it is for me to imagine ten years ago today. On September 11, 2001, I was in eighth grade and I very calmly thought to myself, “Well! I will not ever play varsity volleyball in high school, because the world is over.” On September 11, 2010, I took the first steps of what would become my pilgrimage to my dreams. For the past year, I have attempted to slowly close in on my dreams in concentric circles. For me, the world began on the same day that it ended, albeit nine years apart. (Spoiler alert: I never ended up playing varsity volleyball anyway, due to my doughy, Jewish physique.)
I can’t think of a better day to speak directly to my “demographic” – skinny 18-to-34-year-olds and spam bots. I am talking to YOU right now, Tweeters and Tumblrers and Bloggers and whatever the HECK else portmanteaus we can whip up while sitting in ironic coffee shops ironically listening to Spotify. We are coming of age in a culture not of un-enjoyment, but of anti-enjoyment. Passion is not just superfluous – passion is weakness. If you like things, you might like the wrong things, and then you’re WRONG with a capital “DOUBLE-U” with a capital “D”, and then you’re BAD and ugly and FAT and SUPER FAT. The Internet can’t figure out whether it wants to beatify things or damn them, so it just gets all sorts of contentious. Contention on the Internet is silly in the worst sense of the word. Personally, I hate confrontation. I like to think of myself as a sickly Victorian child, or a maybe a sickly geisha. Very demure and easily persuaded and sickly. If the Internet is a super highway, we all have road rage.
To participate in this chic backlash against passion is to have a small mind. In my humble, unimportant, normal-sized opinion, it is better to have a small BRAIN than a small MIND. If you have a small brain, you can still be a good, kind, hard-working, dumb person who can manage some sort of farm or daycare. If you have a small mind, however, you very well might hurt people with it. You are just getting a sliver of the delicious Bacon, Ham, & Cheese Lean Pocket that is being young in America.
Spending your youthful energy on combative, kinetic apathy is a waste. Stuff is AWESOME, GUYS. Something about everything is awesome. Because I live in LA, CA, USA and not other places in the world, I get to write things like “fuck fuck FUCK fuck fuck FUCK” on the Internet (the title of my next blog post). I can condemn Burkas while comfortably wearing a Snuggie (a gateway Burka). I can do an interpretative dance as Hitler for 322 people (suck it, Hitler). I can do whatever I want (sort of) and I can eat whatever I want (not carbs) and be the opposite of dead.
The people who, ten years ago today, flew those planes into the sides of two of the tallest buildings in America had minds that were even smaller than mine (and possibly yours, if you’re wearing a shirt from Threadless Tees). Their worldview was so closed to interpretation that they thought the only answer was a large-scale terrorist attack. I’m not saying Hipsters are Terrorists (though that is a very funny sentiment that I never thought I’d get the chance to write). I am saying that closing your mind to sincerity and praise and appreciation might be the first step in squandering the fucking awesome human condition you possess. Please do not close your mind to the not-small epiphany that epic joy exists.
Please, PLEASE feel free to completely disregard and disagree with and disJimBelushi (I made that word up, because I CAN, IN AMERICA) this essay. Why should you listen to me, when I’m forehead-deep in the disaffected goo that is my generation? I’m sitting in a hipster coffee shop in Hollywood, a living, breathing, self-important, self-hating cliché. My caveat is, I sort of wrote this for myself. I want to read this diary entry in one more year, or ten more years, or three-hundred-and-twenty-two more years, and see how wonderful and confusing it is to be happy and young in the face of slaughter.
If you are reading this, you are not dead. I myself happen to be very not dead. I’m giddy and sleepy and fighting the need to pee and listening to one of my favorite songs (“True” by Spandau Ballet) and physically not dead. I make enough money to waste it. I’m spoiled enough to be addicted to the culture of coffee. I wear rainbow sunglasses every day. I have a crush on 40% of the boys in my gchat bar. Jesus, this is awesome. I want to be not dead every day of my life.
I love LA and I love NY and I love America and I love being not dead. Happy anniversary(s). Here’s to one and ten more.
(Editor’s note: John August’s response: I’d argue that upcoming generations are supposed to push back against what came before them: that’s part of the engine of culture. But “everything sucks” isn’t pushing; it’s flailing. Maybe in a decade’s time we’ll look back and realize that the endless cycles spent on 4chan and Jersey Shore will have been worthwhile. But I worry instead that we’ll end up with a terrible government and a lack of innovation because the generation entrusted with stirring shit up sat on its collective ass.)
By KATRINA ONSTAD for NY Times, July 14th 2011
Miranda July stood in her living room in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, apologizing for the sunflowers. It really was a copious amount of sunflowers.
They sprouted from Mason jars and vases, punctuating the austere, Shaker-like furniture in the sunny home that July, who is 37, shares with her husband, the filmmaker Mike Mills, who’s 45. Noticing me noticing the sunflowers, she interjected: “We just had a party. We don’t usually have sunflowers everywhere.”
In person, July was very still, with ringlets of curly hair falling over her wide blue eyes like a protective visor, and she seemed perceptively aware of the “precious” label that is often attached both to her and to her work. At a different point in our time together, I followed her into a hotel room in San Francisco, where Mills had left her a knitted octopus wearing a scarf and hat on the couch. She laughed when she saw it but also appeared a bit mortified: “Oh, God,” she said. “It’s kind of a joke… . It’s not… . Really, this isn’t us at all.”
At their house, Mills emerged from his office; in contrast to July’s measured composure, Mills seemed in constant motion, often running his hands through his Beethoven hair. Both he and July have directed new films being released this summer. His film, “Beginners,” is loosely based on the true story of his father’s coming out at age 75. July’s film, “The Future,” is her second feature as a director, and it’s a funny, sad portrait of a couple at a crossroads. Sophie, played by July, works at a children’s dance school, and Jason, played by Hamish Linklater, provides tech-support by telephone from their sofa. The couple is weeks away from adopting Paw-Paw, an injured cat and a symbol of impending adulthood who is also the film’s narrator. A talking cat is exactly the kind of detail that might endear people who are endeared by Miranda July and infuriate people who are infuriated by her. There are plenty of both.
“You’ve met us at a weird time,” Mills said. “We’re usually just two workaholics in our separate corners.” July and Mills first crossed paths in 2005, when July’s debut feature, “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” made its premiere at Sundance at the same time as Mills’s film “Thumbsucker.” They met at a party — “She wore a yellow dress,” he recalls — and he watched her do a Q. and A. the next day. “She was so strong and declarative. I fell in love instantly.” They married in the summer of 2009 at Mills’s house in the Nevada hills.
In one sense, July has been enjoying the Platonic ideal of creative success in the age of the hyphenate artist. She publishes short stories in The New Yorker. The seven-year Web project, “Learning to Love You More,” which she produced with Harrell Fletcher — in which more than 8,000 people submitted material in response to online assignments like “Make a protest sign and protest” and “Take a picture of your parents kissing” — was recently acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “Me and You and Everyone We Know” won the Camera d’Or at Cannes and was named by Roger Ebert as one of the best films of the 2000s. She inspires a devotion among her fans that is positively swoony: “I love Miranda July, and everything she does is so subtle and sweet and bizarre and necessary,” is a fairly typical sentiment. July is preoccupied with intimacy — she habitually uses the words “you” and “we” in her titles — and this demands, and inspires, an intense engagement from her followers. After a screening of “The Future” at the San Francisco Film Festival, a small crowd surrounded July, pinning her against the back wall of the movie theater, wanting to tell her, with palpable urgency, how much her work mattered to them. Her office has an entire room filled top to bottom with boxes of letters and objects from fans around the world. One man printed every e-mail he ever wrote and sent them all to July, because only she would understand.
Yet despite this (or perhaps because of it) she has also become the unwilling exemplar of an aggravating boho archetype: the dreamy, young hipster whose days are filled with coffee, curios and disposable enchantments. “Yes, in some ways Miranda July is living my dream and life, and yes, maybe I’m a little jealous,” wrote one Brooklyn-based artist on her blog. “I loathe her. It feels personal.” To her detractors (“haters” doesn’t seem like too strong a word) July has come to personify everything infuriating about the Etsy-shopping, Wes Anderson-quoting, McSweeney’s-reading, coastal-living category of upscale urban bohemia that flourished in the aughts. Her very existence is enough to inspire, for example, an I Hate Miranda July blog, which purports to detest her “insufferable precious nonsense.” Or there is the online commenter who roots for July to be exiled to Darfur. Or the blogger who yearns to beat her with a shoe.