Process & Project - The Stay Talks, Episode 1
A Conversation with Christian Brown
Welcome to a new feature/chapter at The Stay Project, where we share a cup of something aromatic with a creative sort, and bat around some musings about making stuff and staying.
Christian Brown steps in as our inaugural interview. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, Christian exhibits paintings, sculptures, drawings, and mixed media installations, and has written and illustrated two books, 13 Riddles, 13 Rhymes and I Speak in Frogs and Fish. We caught up with the artist in Bend, Oregon, where he currently makes his home with artist and entrepreneur Cari Brown. Together they own and operate The Workhouse, a creative workspace with on-site studios and a retail gallery, and a local hub for education and events.
The Three Poets are late, because they went to the wrong coffee house, but the artist is calm and gracious, both dapper and rock-n-roll in t-shirt and flannel, with a sharp suit jacket thrown over the back of his chair. A laptop rests in a handmade portfolio, got in trade for the leather from an artist at The Workhouse. A weathered yellow thermos of coffee sits on the table.
TheStayProject: What about workspaces? We know you live in a tiny house.
Christian Brown: I’ve made many spaces into workspaces. A three-room living space in Greenpoint [Brooklyn], had a front room, a kitchen, and a room in back, and at some point all three rooms had workspaces within them. Now I do a lot in a garage that’s both workshop and studio, and I have that space at The Workhouse.
TSP: Onto boundaries and edges. One would think tiny house living would support a sense of finitude, where things begin and end.
CB: I guess maybe I’m afraid of things ending. I’m the guy who leaves cabinet doors open. Someone will give me a whole season of a TV show, and I’ll watch until the last several episodes, then quit, (sub)consciously losing interest, but I suspect that that’s a reluctance to close the door.
TSP: How does that translate to your work?
CB: Hmm, I don’t know…It does suck when something just ends, when the answers to all the questions have been provided or found. Questions are far more interesting.
TSP: How do you work toward a question?
CB: I come up with a point, and go to that point. I work best when I’m not riled up or stressed, and then I am better at responding to the work as it happens…a call and response.
CB: Many pieces were about, ‘Let’s just see what happens.’ She was showing up to do the work. I know other artists like that, they can just do it and be cool, and somehow they hit it. The work is not about the end results it’s about the process- or the process is the end result—they just go for it. Louise Bourgeois had a series called The Insomnia Drawings, just [Christian pantomimes a death grip on a pen and fierce air scribbling]…and you know a bit of what it was like for her to be up all night, doing…
TSP: Where did it begin for you?
CB: What drew me to making art was being shown love for moving toward something like virtuosity—I loved form and could mimic it…but that’s not ‘cool’ [laughs]. Women thought I was good at it. I hate to be so Dead Poet’s Society, but I [started to make art] for the praise of women.
At RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], there was a sense of something going on: things don’t have to look like anything, things can just be what they are. Realism was suddenly the ultimate abstraction. Existential times…and youthful rigor, and ego…I don’t know, but I was trying really hard.
TSP: There’s the story of Michelangelo regretting signing his Pieta, and never signing anything after. But his era signaled the rise of the individual artist.
CB: Yeah, the individual artist, or just the individual. Europe went from theocracy to aristocracy to the bourgeois class, each step putting more emphasis on the individual. The artist was the one who told those stories of power- while themselves moving from a sort of priesthood, to a courtly station, to also become the bourgeoisie- they mimicked social change through time. They reflect the attitudes of the their present leaders. Today that would be that of the CEO- look at Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, and their identities. I like taking a long view of history, as a ‘funnel’- over time, we’ve moved from a collective society to individualism…where ultimately there’s no external reality, only internal.
We let go of our beliefs; religious and social order, then power of state, followed more recently in the 20th century with the manipulation of our psychologies and minds (Freud and drugs) then by the transformation of our bodies i.e. tattoos, piercings, sexual revolution. And I find this interesting because we still would like to claim that we put so much importance on our spiritual and intellectual selves over our bodies yet our physical selves have been the last to fall. Now of course we don’t even need our bodies anymore, we can live through a created self on line.
Do you know The Century of the Self? [Edward Bernays] was the inventor, creator, of PR, in the era of Freud. He was the one to call cigarettes ‘Torches of Freedom,’ to rebrand the female public persona. You can watch it on YouTube.
TSP: How has the work changed?
CB: In my early career, it was about the group, the community. I liked putting shows together—I’d rather throw a party than go to one. I think the ideal state for an artist to be in for a solo show is naked and laughing. Just, you know, vulnerable and gleeful. Humor is a big thing. For a little while there, I didn’t have much reason to show, but it’s what you do. My whole 30’s in New York just sucked. At 39 I got a solo show in Chelsea, but… anyway, I thought, I can leave New York now. I might still just want to show the stuff to the women.
I struggle with integration of self. There’s joy in integration, different from happiness. It’s the impulse, the dissatisfaction, the sense a lack that pushes and moves toward integration. I don’t ski; I do this. It’s as close as I get to feeling part of the world. When I’m working I’m definitely my favorite self. Being creative and coming up with ideas is my favorite part of myself. It’s what I want to do.
TSP: How do you ‘get back to work’?
TSP: And art is work.
CB: Calling something art is a problem. I got more work done when I didn’t call myself an artist. I’m caught in a lot of process right now—process engages me, the act of thinking with an object. Figuring out solutions to basic problems and getting lost in them, that draws me lately.
TSP: What about Howard Singerman’s idea, “…child art is seen as art, precisely because it is unskilled, and because its practitioners took images from their imagination and struggled with the medium to give them form – a struggle necessary for any creative art, for keeping the scent of creative barbarism.”
CB: ‘Creative barbarism’, yeah. The madman. Except it’s still talking about a product or a formula. And there’s selection, too. Creativity as selection, choosing what to put in there, the different amounts you have to push in there…this, not that. Not about making it better. Neil Young took one take, and we’re still listening to that stuff fifty years later.
TSP: You write, and have two books.
CB: With those poured paintings I was more interested in creating places to put paint, rather than painting…making structures to let paint do what it is going to do, allow for possible narratives for paint. I wanted to give it a form and step back—‘cause I don’t know what’s good for me.
TSP: What helps you stay, and do?
I always have a cup of coffee. I’m a sipper. And WFMU. They’ll play a song, and (very rarely) I’ll think, yeah, I know this, then there’s music I’ve never heard before and I’m, What the fuck is that? Delighted with the unknown or unexpected, because really, I’m not the best judge of what I want. And this is one of my favorite arts thing ever.
A glimpse into a recent project with mirrored boxes, text ("Write a punchline & a fear on the glass in Sharpie with your non-dominant hand, without looking..."), & light, by Christian Brown
Marleen S. Barr
President Harvey Weinstein Inaugurates the Pig Party
On his last day in office in 2020, President Trump pardoned all the famous jailed sexual predators. Bill Cosby, Anthony Weiner, Matthew Weiner—every other offending Weiner—Joe Moore, Charlie Rose (yes, even Charlie Rose), Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor (yes, even Garrison Keillor)--and last but not least Harvey Weinstein--were again free to assault women. Trump made this statement as he left the White House for the final time: “Obama and the Pope, when he was visiting here, are the only male celebrities in the entire country who have not grabbed pussies. Yes, women recently won the right to declare that pussy grabbing is a crime punishable by imprisonment. But it cost too much to keep every famous powerful guy in jail. I pardoned them all.”
Women, after being treated as so many Cassandras throughout American history, were thrilled that their sexual abuse allegations were finally being believed. The Democratic Party’s 2017 victories were a harbinger of the liberal landslide which occurred during the 2018 midterm election. Victory ensued because women showed up on Election Day to oppose their sexual predator President. Multitudinous post-Weinstein sexual abuse charges fueled the momentum. When Trump walked out of the White House in 2020, President Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Kamala Harris walked in.
Warren and Harris changed America into a feminist utopia. All of the cabinet secretaries, generals, and judges Warren appointed were women. In 2026, when human cloning was perfected in a limited manner, feminist scientists cloned Ruth Bader Ginsburg into quintuplets. Four Ginsburg clones stood in the wings to replace her on the Supreme Court. Hillary Rodham Clinton was also cloned for good measure.
In 2032, everyone expected that history would be made when Hillary followed Warren enabling two Democratic women in a row to be elected President. On election night, women were preparing to celebrate the victory of President Hillary Clinton. True, Hillary was now eighty-five years old. But it was not necessary to call in her clone. The original Hillary still had enough energy to run. President Hillary Clinton never happened—again. The misogynist backlash kicked in--again. American men did not enjoy living in President Warren’s feminist utopia. American men were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take feminist utopia anymore.
Men rallied around their dream candidate to run against Hillary: Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein, a few years younger than Hillary, had the oomph to run too.
While Democrats were resurgent in post-Trump 2020, not so for the Republicans who imploded in the wake of the 2017 Joe Moore Alabama Senate seat fiasco. Weinstein, sensing an opening to establish a new political party, held his first campaign rally in what was Hugh Heffner’s former Playboy Mansion. He hired Russian prostitutes to dress as Playboy Bunnies and flirt with the male audience who filled the Mansion. The assembled men, who had lost their power to grab pussies for fifteen years, went into a pussy grabbing frenzy.
Weinstein approached the podium. “Attention, attention,” he shouted. “Stop grabbing, ogling and raping and give me your attention,” he continued as the male audience went on with its predatory rampage. “Thank you for supporting the Weinberg Weiner ticket. Anthony and I pledge to make America great again—for men. To do this, we are starting a new political party called the Pig Party. That’s “pig” as in “male chauvinist pig’—and that’s us. Women will not replace us,” Weinstein shouted as he lit a tiki torch. “Our party’s name—the Pig Party the proud Pig Party--is not too blatant. America once had the Whig Party. Well, ‘Whig’ rhymes with ‘pig.’ The Whigs held muster from 1833 to 1854. The Pigs will prevail in 2032.”
The Pig Party won the 2032 election; President Harvey Weinstein was inaugurated in January. Using Trump’s treatment of Obama as a model, Weinstein spent his first year in office undoing everything President Warren had accomplished. He then proceeded to ban women from holding elected office. This was his first affront. Saving tax money by denying women access to education and giving the money to rich men followed. Further gender-based discrimination resulted in a trickle-down effect which benefitted men in all economic classes. Men’s economic status increased in direct proportion to women’s civil rights decrease. Misogyny escalated to the extent that female-owned businesses were destroyed and women—who were now forced to wear round cat-eared pink insignias stamped with a “P” which stood for pussy—were herded into ghettoes. President Weinstein’s film producer experience kicked in when he remembered that The Handmaid’s Tale was a hit 2017 television show. “Let’s go one better than Margaret Atwood’s vision. Let’s make The Handmaid’s Tale real,” he proclaimed. And so he did.
President Weinstein mandated that the dehumanized ghettoized pink feline insignia wearing American women would all be named “Ofharvey.” Young Ofharveys were doled out to men to serve as sex slaves. Older women toiled as men’s garden variety slaves.
The transition from American feminist utopia to feminist dystopia was complete—until feminist resistance movement scientists hiding in the basement of the Barnard College Diana Center generated a reason to hope for change.
These underground revolutionaries improved cloning technology to the extent that they produced an army of Hillary and Ruth Bader Ginsburg clones. Since their technique only worked for replicating the XX homogametic chromosome combination, men could not be replicated. Hordes of cloned Hillarys and Ginsburgs descended on Washington and demanded an end to the Weinstein regime. Because men realized that they could not win against an army of ever increasing clones who were not subject to attrition, the revolution was bloodless. The Hillarys and Ginsburgs were smarter than the men, anyway.
American women, the undisputed winners of the Clone Civil War, reinstated former President Warren’s feminist utopia. All the subjugated “pussy” slaves were freed. Women cast off their Ofharvey designations and reclaimed their names and identities.
One of the Hillary clones was elected President. (The original Hillary decided that she was too old to run a third time.) American feminist utopia was guaranteed in perpetuity when President Hillary appointed Ginsburg clones to fill the nine Supreme Court positions. She then locked up former President Weinstein.
The revolutionary feminist scientists solved the men question when they opened a box located in a corner of the Diana Center’s basement. The box contained the papers of an early twenty-first century feminist theorist. The scientists were fascinated by her article on Philip Roth’s “The Breast” which argued that if a woman could be depicted as a sentient breast, then it stood to reason that a man could be portrayed as a sentient penis. Agreeing with this premise, the scientists invented a way to make this scholarly feminist science fiction vision real.
President Hillary signed an executive order which stated that all men in America swallow The Pill which would turn them into walking talking penises. Hence, all the American male pigs literally became pricks. Sperm was still viable for reproduction.
Each American women received a sentient penis of her own. Their penises were named Alex—in memory of the old Alexa technology. When women needed to use a penis for reproduction—or whatever women routinely used penises for—they turned to their Alex. American women, again ensconced within the feminist utopia former President Warren created and the clones reinstated—could party with the former Pig Party members whenever they saw fit to do so. That less used definition of “member” no longer connoted what used to be men’s prerogative to plan their own sexual predation parties with impunity.
Marleen S. Barr is known for her pioneering work in feminist science fiction and teaches English at the City University of New York. She has won the Science Fiction Research Association Pilgrim Award for lifetime achievement in science fiction criticism. Barr is the author of Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and Feminist Theory, Lost in Space: Probing Feminist Science Fiction and Beyond, Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction, and Genre Fission: A New Discourse Practice for Cultural Studies. Barr has edited many anthologies and co-edited thescience fiction issue of PMLA. She is the author of the novels Oy Pioneer! and Oy Feminist Planets: A Fake Memoir. Her When Trump Changed: The Feminist Science Fiction Justice Leage Quashes the Orange Outrage Pussy Grabber, the first single authored Trump short story collection, is forthcoming.