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In the coming weeks, Carla founder and editor-in-chief Lindsay Preston Zappas will be hosting chats with members of the L.A. art community via Instagram live on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
The following was edited for web from an Instagram Live conversation on March 25, 2020 at 5:30 PST. Click here for previous interviews in this series.
Lindsay Preston Zapaas: So how are you doing? Tell me what your routine has been looking like over the last week or so since our world has been turned upside down?
DB: Right right right. I mean I feel like I’m having this conversation with everyone, but I feel sort of like a mix of things. Like [I’m going] from one great feeling to a nervous anxiety-ridden day. I’m doing a lot of things whether it’s in the studio, or around the house, or laying in bed at odd hours of the day…
LPZ: Yep. Sounds about right. Same. I feel like the emotions come in waves. My mode is to be productive through this, and fix things, and work through it. But I am trying to slow myself down because I don’t think that’s always the healthiest mode. And I’m sure that relates to you and your work in the studio too…
DB: Yeah. I was sort of setup to have a pretty busy spring. So, I’ve had two shows canceled, some talks, and all these other things. Which makes sense—it’s the world we’re living in—but at the same time, there’s a natural way when you start preparing for a show, that you sort of fill up all this energy and rush to get the work done. And, now that it’s all on hold I have this kind of pent-up energy… The place where you would naturally come down off of it, I don’t feel quite right about because there’s not that sort of celebration, or the talking, or the sharing of the work. So that makes it kind of complicated.
LPZ: Right. So do you feel like in the studio you kind of expect or rely on that moment of putting things out into the world, and then getting that feedback?
DB: Yeah, right. I think that circulation piece is a little lost for myself—and for other folks—and I think this [social media livestrams] have been doing a good job of filling in that gap, but there’s something hard about missing those things that are so normally experienced in-person and that [lack of] contact that has been hard.
LPZ: So what routines have you found most helpful to you this week? What are you doing?
DB: I’ve been working to navigate that part. So, a lot of what I’ve been doing outside of just reaching out and talking to people—like I’ve never FaceTimed to this many people: I’ve been reading, I’ve been writing, I’m doing all of the domestic things that I usually don’t do, because I frankly never feel like I have the time, or like it can wait. But I’ve been sort of vegged out as much as any of the other productive things…as my scruffy appearance probably tells…
LPZ: No you look great, per usual. I think all of those things are wonderful, like taking time, doing some housekeeping on yourself and your actual house. All of those things are really important to do.
To go back to what you were talking about earlier, this misplaced energy, or having this energy to work but not knowing where the other side of that goes…can we dig at that a little further?
DB: I think some of it for me, just having this time to think and really sit with my thoughts. I’ve been thinking about sharpness and clarity because I think often, speaking for myself, I think a lot that with art school, or these things that train you, you can come away with a lot of talking at or around things. And, I feel like I’m sitting in this moment watching the world burn, and I feel like being more exact and clear about what our terms are. What we want, especially as we go forward and start making art that touches on this moment. It feels so important. I think that I’ve also just been, for myself, returning to why it is that I am an artist. And I mean that in the sense of like… I feel so removed from that very first moment that I decided to be an artist, before I thought about making my living at my passion. And I feel like a lot of folks are panicking about what the financial fall out that this will be, and I guess as important as that is, I think I’m also reminding myself: what are the things that you wanted to say and do with this gift? The skill that you have. And that’s been really important in helping me calm down.
LPZ: I just took a deep breath as you said that. Yeah, I’ve been seeing a lot of people posting things like that there’s this pressure to be in the studio right now. But then that is also combated with this feeling of being so stressed out, and maybe it’s not the best state to be producing work that’s really thoughtful and rich.
DB: Oh my God. I’m so here for the introspection and sitting still, and all of that. I think there is something great to being able to work without the distractions that we normally would have if we weren’t quarantined. I’m definitely feeling that mixed in with all the stress, there is that feeling of relief of not having to show up and output in the way that we would normally have to. And, I think that frankly (laughs), I was talking to a friend about how she thinks that people who are continuing to grind or psychotic probably. I think one of the other reasons that I’m laying in bed every day is that I’m like “oh you’re so tired.”
LPZ: This is such a big question, but was so many of us in this precarious position. All artists basically are small business owners, right, like we all have our own enterprises.. all of the galleries in our community and everyone. What do you think we need right now to do as a community?
DB: A lot of my friends and colleagues who are old enough to remember these things as adults sort pinpoint 9/11 and the financial crisis as what this feels similar to. I can’t index to that moment, and so for me I keep thinking about… like this is the first moment I’ve ever thought that in a very real and not abstract way, “what if I can’t pay my bills? What if the art does not continue to sell… or the art of my peers?”
And I think it really starts me asking questions about thinking about how pitched the art world is to this one particular model of sustaining itself. And of course, I start thinking about what institutions can do, and what artists can do as they collaborate with each other to sustain themselves financially. I think it’s important—like, when I was talking about that idea of being clear—to say that with this financial piece, I don’t I think most artists want to live in a world that’s chained to capitalism, but we unfortunately do. I’m just wondering how then we generate income and continue to make the things we want to make, and stay alive. I know there are some models to do that, but that is not how the whole infrastructure works.
LPZ: It’s a really interesting moment right now with all of that kind of breaking apart. All of the structures we’ve relied on in almost every facet of our society is crumbling or being exposed as being very volatile and fragile. And it’s a really unique moment I think to be able to sort of unearthing other models and start from scratch. This, what we’re doing now [Instagram Livestream], this is one thing a lot of people have been doing. This kind of digital moment is great for now, but I’m curious how some of this innovation might stick. And how some of it might pave new pathways moving forward too.
DB: Truly truly. And I think it’s like building more infrastructure so that when moments like this happen… Like I don’t think it’s doing away with being able to make a living by selling objects. But, when those moments arrive, how then will artists be compensated for their time and their energy and their ideas? And especially as the new normal is moving to digital platforms, how does someone make three-dimensional objects and participate in that space?
LPZ: I’m curious about your studio… I do a little bit of weaving and I feel like for me it does turn into this meditative thing where I’m listening to podcasts or music or books on tape and just kind of like going and weaving. Like do you feel like the loom and your studio right now can be that meditative space for you during this time?
DB: Yeah, on some level. And I think there are two sides of the same coin for me: writing and weaving. They both access that same sort of meditative introspective space. But frankly, I feel like often I have to do the weaving, and the writing can wait. And we have a couple more weeks of this, so I feel like I can do both in a way that feels equitable right now. But, yes for sure [weaving] is a space where I can kind of relax and think and feel my whole body. I’ve always loved that about weaving, so it does feel like a centering thing as much as it is about what gets made ultimately.
LPZ: Ok, to shift, what have you been reading? You mentioned you’ve been reading.
This book has been in my mind to read forever: Wild by Cheryl Strayad. It’s this book where she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. I tend to think apocalyptically just on a normal day. But in this moment I’m like what if I have to survive off the land cuz everything collapses (laughs)? So it’s like, I should read that.
I was already reading these two by Danez Smith: Don’t Call Us Dead and Homie. So, I really love poetry. It is what I write a lot myself, secretly. These books are epic. And, Danez is positive, queer, and talks a lot about their life with living with being positive. So I think it’s accessing this different sort of illness but also thinking again about this idea of the epidemic.
Borrowed Time by Paul Monette. This is also more about the AIDS crisis. I’m already thinking about epidemic and some of these things, and it has been nice—nice is not the right language to use—but it’s been an interesting thing to think about [in light of what’s going on now]
I think everything should read this book by Zora Neale Hurston: The Sanctified Church. There are several passages where she’s talking about witch doctors. Stories she collected from folks in the South, particularly Florida, of the sort of Faith healers, and witch doctors, and folks that through metaphysical means could cure folks of their ailments. So again she’s talking about what people do when they’re sick, and how they think about getting better. Especially how that relates to spirituality. Spirituality for me, and I think even beyond thinking about religion, it’s like how do we grapple with our bodies when they don’t do what we need them to do or what we want them to do?
LPZ: Wow. So profound that sounds amazing.
DB: One more: Cecilia Vicuna (New and Selected poems) is an artist that I admire so much and I think does that thing I was talking about: someone who makes three-dimensional objects, but also writing is so much of her practice. So it’s collected poems of her work and they’re in Spanish and English. And she talks a lot about the collapse of the environment and has been doing so for over 40 years in her work. So it sounds strange to say timely, since the world’s been collapsing forever, but it feels timely.
LPZ: I was going to ask you before if you feel like those themes were things that you’re thinking about in your work already. Obviously it feels so on point with what’s going on in the world right now to think about negotiating spirituality, and illness, and our bodies, but I can also see that kind of running through your work in the past.
DB: Yeah, I think it has been an undercurrent in that it’s an interest that I’ve thought about forever. I’ve thought about textiles as a great medium to think about healing and protection by virtue of the way that we interact with them in our lives. But, in the forthcoming show (dates to be determined) that I was working towards, I was sort of running headlong into thinking about the AIDS crisis. Both as this kind of historical and present thing. I’m thinking about the idea of the plague or epidemic. So I think it’s another reason that I’m having trouble getting back into the studio, frankly, because I’m trying to think through this all, and now we’re like experiencing it.
LPZ: Earlier you were thinking about the role of an artist during all of this, and we had emailed a bit about that. Are you thinking about that in a large-scale way too? Just like the role of an artist in a society (and while that society is crumbling)?
DB: Earlier when we were emailing, I was thinking that I don’t have an answer and I felt very dark about it… like [artists] don’t have a place in this. Like everyone just needs to stay home and be quiet. And I think that part of it really goes back to the support, and communicating and locking in with each other. Because even just sitting here [with you], even though it’s digital, I feel more energized and I’m thinking “oh everything is going to be fine.”
But, I think I’m in the space that everyone needs to continue with the work that they feel passionate about, whether that has a direct relationship to [what’s going on] or not. Because, I think about it from a historical longview perspective. Like the things that people are talking about and thinking about matter and will be important to someone in the future to see. So I’m hesitant to think that people should marry their art to this moment because there are so many other things that we want to say and talk about.
So, it is like, just rest and enjoy that time, and go back to what your mission is. Like why you were an artist in the first place. And I think that that answer for folks hopefully will be there, as opposed to the knee-jerk response that you have to respond to this thing [as its happening]. And I feel like a lot of my peers are having that conversation, and struggling about what do I do with this.
LPZ: Yeah, I feel like it mirrors certain conversations that we are having when Trump got elected. I feel like a lot of artists were like “oh my gosh, do I need to make political work now? Does my art need to change? Do I need to address this in my work?” And, you don’t. We don’t all want to look at Trump art we’re not all going to want to look at COVID-19 art.
DB: But, I do think that I got a lot of permission from the Trump election. After he was elected I was sort of like “what is there to lose? I’m just going to say the things that I want to or need to.” And I think maybe there’s a similar outcome here.