Melting Point Halloween
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As the awards part of the night came to a close, the ball began and voguing contests went into full swing. At one point, dancers invited lesbian women to show off their nails, as model Jazzelle Zanaughtti, aka Ugly Worldwide, took over the stage with her curling, silver talons courtesy of @nailsbyjuan.nyc.
Towards the end of the night, Isaiah thanked Weinraub before the filmmaker screened her groundbreaking documentary, SHAKEDOWN, about a lesbian strip club in LA. Stay tuned for more from office about Weinraub and the film, and if you weren’t at this year's event—don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
See photos from The Family Awards & Lesbian Ball by office favorite Zora Sicher, below.
In DEMOCRAZY (2007), he cast Sharon Stone and Bernard-Henri Levy as US Presidential candidates in deadpan campaign spots that spoof the form by showing just how indiscernible an absurd imitation is from the real thing. In politics and beyond, his art plays with perennial themes of appropriation, vanity, and the subjectivity of the real. And so, in an age when the star-spangled big top of pop politics has blown open to reveal a circus of venal, hubristic cowards, we’ve invited the man whose work has cast a critical eye on the past and present grotesqueries of the system to try on the candidate’s shoes and step into the ring himself for something of a one-man debate.
Please welcome to the stage Francesco Vezzoli.
Let’s jump right in. Mister Vezzoli, your critics have assailed your so-called “LA values,” claiming that your collaborations with Hollywood stars are pure egotism. What do you say to those who doubt that your work serves a greater purpose than self-promotion?
I am sincerely not hurt by the words of these critics, they are entitled to analyze and scrutinize my work—and in some ways they are right, but probably not in the sense they intended. All those videos were openly and bluntly conceived as forms of self-entertainment for the artist, i.e. myself. They were self-proclaimed acts of egotism, mises en abîme of my own vanity. I never saw anything wrong in that. Actually, some of the most memorable artworks of the past centuries were the fruits of private romantic or sexual relationships—or worse, they were just the outcome of very basic financial transactions, or merely the reflections of the overinflated ego of the artist. Who on earth can say that egotism has nothing to do with art?
So is critic Jerry Saltz wrong when he refers to your work as “stunningly shallow?”
I’m a deep expert in super cial cultures and subcultures. Sometimes the critics mix up the subject of my studies with my private persona or my very own passions. It’s a very easy and understandable mistake, it’s probably a mistake I endorse subconsciously myself. I just love creating a bit of tension, and I sincerely forgive even my harshest detractors for stumbling into my little glittering traps.
You are Italian—Italians are decadent, self-absorbed, and famously corrupt. How will you defy this stereotype to win the people’s trust, and earn the respect of the global community?
Self-absorbed decadence and corruption have certainly characterized some of the politicians of Italy’s more recent past, however dear old Berlusconi, when compared to Donald Trump, comes across as the illegitimate but well- behaved son of Abraham Lincoln and Mother Theresa.
You’ve spoken of your parents’ onetime af liation with the Partito di Unità Proletaria—will you explicitly denounce Communism, or did you inherit their Communist sympathies?
I guess I inherited a very healthy attitude toward discussion and analysis and debate. As much as my parents related to the Communist ideology in a critical way, I’m afraid I have adopted a similar approach to pop culture.
You have been described as a “market darling” and portrayed as a member of the industry establishment. Why should we believe that your work is anything more than “politics as usual?”
I sincerely wish I were a market darling. Unfortunately for me, all the critics that have accused me of such a crime can easily be proven wrong. I produce very little. I don’t have a real studio. I don’t have assistants. The output of such a scarce team is a very, very, very small number of artworks each year. A limited but loyal group of collectors around the world has, year after year, very generously acquired some of these works, and all the finances I gained were entirely and constantly reinvested in the production of all those over-the-top budgeted videos. Not a market star. Not a very rich artist. But certainly a very bemused one. My integrity is written in black and white on each one of my tax declarations.
For our next question, we turn to social media. @ asks, “Mister Vezzoli, when it comes to abortion, do you support a woman’s right to choose? If not, what the fuck is wrong with you? If so, what the fuck is wrong with you? What if your mother had terminated your birth? What if the Blessed Virgin— who has appeared in your work—had murdered dear baby Jesus in the womb?” How do you respond?
In Italy, abortion, just like divorce or same-sex marriage, has been a right achieved in slow motion, so to speak. Always with a substantial delay compared to other European countries. The first and absolutely undeniable reason for granting these rights was simply the fact that privileged people could already afford all of the above, and the unprivileged couldn’t. So, besides any religious or moral issue, if society endorses certain changes these changes should be accessible to everyone, everywhere, with the same dignity for all social classes.
In recent years, mass shootings have sadly become a regular occurrence. What is your personal view on guns, and do you believe they have any place in modern society?
I have never touched a gun in my entire life, and to be honest I already nd fairly disturbing those infomercials with former celebrities or chefs praising the sharpness of those horrifying knife sets they sell. Basically any object that can even remotely cause harm to another person scares the hell out of me.
Ken Johnson of the New York Times has called your religion-themed work “sophomoric, pseudo-blasphemy.” Seeing as much of the populace you serve are people of faith, what can you tell them about your relationship with God?
I autonomously refused Communion when I was seven. That says pretty much everything.
[mixed cheering and boos]
Your supporters rely on you to stay informed on a broad range of subjects so that you are equipped to make the wisest decisions when it comes to your work. Can you share with us what your go-to sources are for the latest in current affairs and cultural critique?
I’m afraid my answer to this question is absolutely boring—I just browse the net randomly from Grindr to the Huffington Post to Vogue.com, and mix everything in my very special blender.
As we all know, every aspect of a candidate’s private life is put under the microscope during their campaign. I’d like to give you the chance now to get ahead of any rumors or accusations that might be leveled against you by your opponents—is there anything from your past that the public should know about?
When I was around six or seven years old I applied to become a member of the Italian radical party. That was around the time they were the defenders of some of the most basic civil rights that everyone in Italy now takes for granted, but back then every other single Italian political party was simply overlooking— from abortion, to divorce, to legal rights for same-sex couples. I still believe Emma Bonino should be president of my country today. She would certainly give Donald a run for his money on any matter related to foreign politics.
Finally, in one sentence—what is your plan to stop ISIS?
To stop talking about them and just get on with my very decadent and immoral life.
What compelled you to seek out Chechnya as a shoot location? Did you know anything about it before you went there to shoot?
Abu: Chechnya is not like any other place in Russia. So, it was cool to come and shoot there. But the first things that came to mind were the Chechen Wars, MMA and [Head of the Chechen Republic] Ramzan Kadyrov.
Dmitri: How the region survived the tragedy.
How did the location inform your creative process?
Abu: Thinking about Chechnya, about a strict and serious place, we wanted someone who was the opposite of that as a subject. So, Bianka was perfect for this—she’s a very bright girl. She was like an angel there.
There are so many political things happening in Chechnya right now—most of which, the media seems to paint in a really negative light. But what was your experience like in Grozny? Can you talk about the current environment there?
Abu: Yeah, I often hear about what’s happening in Chechnya, but I'm not one who believes every word the media says. So, I think a lot of what is happening in Chechnya now is an echo of terrible wars. While we were there, we would get woken up early in the morning, when it was still dark out, because of loud Adhan calling Muslims to prayer. There are also a lot of portraits of political leaders around the city. And it’s almost impossible to buy alcohol there. So, there are no night clubs, bars. The main entertainment there is walking and sports.
Dmitri: I have never been into politics, and even before we went to Chechnya, I was so calm about the whole thing. I didn’t want to go into it with any pre-formed thoughts—I just wanted to come and see everything for myself. I never trust the opinions of other people when it comes to different countries, especially with politics and culture.
What was your goal behind the series? Did you want to highlight the reality of modern Chechen life?
Abu: The only goal with these images was to show people how Chechnya really looks like today. We talked a lot with the locals, and we tried to visit not just tourist-y places. I remember we wanted to find some destroyed buildings left after the war. It’s hard to believe, but it’s almost unreal—Chechnya was completely rebuilt in just 20 years.
Dmitri: The fact that we went there and were interested in this country means that soon young people will pay attention on Grozny, and maybe in the near future it will be a city where people will want to go, no matter what.
What was your favorite place you visited?
Abu: I’ll probably never forget our visit to the dolphinarium. While we took photos of Bianka with the [mascot], he slightly kicked her. So, Bianka got very scared and began crying. A few minutes later, he and the managers came up to us and apologized. We laughed and then took a photo with it again.
How was Chechen culture conceptually considered within the shoot?
Abu: We wanted to show how people really live there—how they dress, what they do in their free time, what their interests are. I live in Moscow and Chechnya is also Russia. But these really are two different worlds.
Did the religious atmosphere take on an aesthetic significance?
Abu: Yeah, sure. One of our shooting locations was the fashion house of the wife of the Head of the Chechen Republic. She makes basically luxury muslim outfits.
Did you learn anything about the area, and its people, that you weren't expecting, or that was different from what you had anticipated? Has the news gotten everything wrong?
Abu: At first, I really expected to see the contrast between the new, recently rebuilt Chechnya, and the Chechnya where traces of war still remained. But I really didn’t notice it—life is getting better there. But the people really surprised me—they came up and thanked us for being interested in Chechnya and offered their help. They were just really interested in what we were doing there. It was a real pleasure.
Dmitri: Everything was exactly as I imagined. [Chechens are] nice, kind people ready to help at any minute. But that idea was not due to the news—I never trust the news.
What would you tell someone who was going to visit Chechnya? Is there anything they have to see while they are there?
Abu: There aren’t so many tourist places now, as Grozny has been restored quite recently. I would advise to talk with the people—they are all very open and they really have something to say. Also, there are beautiful mountains in Chechnya, but we didn’t have time to see them.
How would you describe the final series in three words?
Abu: EUROPEAN CANNIBAL IN CHECHNYA.
What do you want people to take away from the photos?
Dmitri: For me, the most important thing people can take away from these photos is to take an interest in the country, and feel inspired to go there by themselves to discover something completely new.