Once in a while, a groundbreaking artistic collaboration happens that defies rules and mediums. Last month, multi-disciplinary fine artist, Item Idem, debuted his sculpture of a car (titled FELON) and invited his friend, Venus X, to DJ on it. The results were stunning. The event, sponsored by MILK Studios and Ford Fusion, revolved around the theme of "fusion," which was present in every detail of the piece, including the construction, colors, and range of music during Venus' set.
Item Idem and Venus X stopped by Complex to interview each other about the experience of working on the piece, all in the context of a greater New York City art revival. From Item Idem's artistic explorations of consumerism to Venus X's GHE20 G0TH1K party, the two are at the pulse of what's fresh and moving culture. According to them, something special is happening in NYC, and after hearing them out, we absolutely agree.
Interview as told to Cedar Pasori (@cpasori).
The warehouse was the perfect space to be wild and crazy. We weren’t even a point on the map — it was illegal.
Item Idem: When I first started developing this project with Milk, I had the idea of designing a mutant car. I love industrial design, so creating a car was an obsession of mine for a long time. I then wanted to activate it as an environment, so that it would be culturally dynamic. #BEEN #TRILL was scheduled to play the event, so I suggested that they play on it, thereby using my piece as a receptacle; however, there are five members of #BEEN #TRILL, and the car was kind of shaky, so I suggested somebody that I know, respect, and love to be part of this project. The answer was obvious, and I chose Venus. The producers were really excited to have her involved. She came, DJed, and rocked the party.
Aside from the fact that I really like Venus as a person and as an artist, I wanted somebody who was really relevant to New York. When the piece traveled to LA, I did the same. I had Ashland Mines (a.k.a. Total Freedom) DJ, who is amazing and more than relevant to the city. For me, that was the best way to initiate a strong connection with the audience.
Venus X: Would you build another one?
Item Idem: For you, of course!
Venus X: I really liked it. For me, it was really nerve-racking to be up there with all those lights. It was the craziest attention monster. Compared to all the holograms and other things happening in the room, I just thought, “What am I gonna do? What language am I going to speak to them from this cart?” I just felt like I was doing this tropical experiment with people there. It’s funny because depending on where you DJ and how you’re presented to the audience, you have more or less freedom.
It was one of the most nervous experiences of my life, but I also felt like I haven’t been that experimental in a while, at least since last summer when I was throwing warehouse parties. The warehouse was the perfect space to be wild and crazy. Nobody cared what we did there. We weren’t even a point on the map — it was illegal. Now, after a year of moving around to different spaces and clubs, with kids that aren’t familiar with the music that I play or with the spaces that I play in, I’ve had to curb my set a lot. It’s interesting as a DJ to play in urban settings for people who are used to radio music. Whereas #BEEN #TRILL was playing a lot of recognizable hits, trap music, and other music that’s trending, there was space for other kinds of music to come into the conversation. I felt really empowered by the structure I was standing on. I had to give a show that was as bright as those lights!
Item Idem: It made me very happy that the piece got to be activated. It’s a sculpture, but then it became a social sculpture through its activation process. Without Venus performing on it, the piece would have been nothing, really. It was magnified in the context of a gallery show.
Venus X: It’s cool that there’s a piece of art existing in the world that was paid for by Ford and made by a genuine artist — one that we can play The Weeknd on and remix with juke. It covers everything, from the most underground musical genres to the most well-known, viral hits, plus your gallery needs. It was a really big moment.
Item Idem: I asked Venus to do it, because she has a special ability to understand the way things cross over and a vast knowledge of music. She can play for club parties, but now the art world also adores her. She played at MoMA and at K8 Hardy’s fashion show at the Whitney Biennial. She can bounce between all types of club aesthetics, but she can also do sound illustration and composing. Last June, I had an art show in Paris, and Venus made a special soundtrack for it on the theme of money, using plenty of found footage from YouTube and CNN, among others, and a recording of a stripper getting bills in her bra. She’s highly creative; that’s what I’m trying to say. I knew she would make something that would be smart.
Venus X: For the Ford and Milk event, I didn’t know I’d be playing it until the morning of.
Item Idem: And I think everybody loved her set.
Whatever you want to do, just do it. If you’re conscious and present in the moment, you’ll mix it properly, and you’ll tell a story.
Venus X: I just feel really blessed. That was an amazing moment. I feel like there were so many people who just came to party, because of Milk, A$AP Rocky, their friends, or whatever reason. In the middle of all of it, something genuinely cool and important happened, you know? It wasn’t about tumbling photos or tweeting that you saw this person, or what you wore, but really about fucking the space up. It was pretty intense, because it wasn’t like I was just playing in the corner where nobody would notice.
Item Idem: Since we decided that she would play the day of, I told her that the piece was quite intense — inspired by Japanese dekotora, which means decoration trucks — with blaring neons, metal, chrome extensions, and the WWI camouflage art for battleships called "Dazzle." So in total, we’ve done two collaborations so far.
Venus X: The show in Paris was really fun and scary, too. I DJ in clubs. Cyril’s getting comfortable asking me to do art stuff regularly now.
Item Idem: I love to play with different mediums, and actually, I’ve tried pretty much everything except music. Music is one thing I definitely can’t do. I love the color and aesthetic of music, but I’m so bad with rhythm. I have crappy commercial music taste. [Laughs] So it’s very exciting to work with an artist who’s so involved with sound. She started as a DJ, but she’s more than that to me. I saw her DJ for K8 Hardy at the Whitney Biennial, and in the art world, that’s pretty major. She mixed infomercials of shampoo products with beats…
Venus X: With Meek Mill… [Laughs] I didn’t care how people would react. My mom was there. My grandma was there. We did what we were supposed to do — all the things we weren’t supposed to do.
Item Idem: For me personally, I like when there’s a bit of thinking in the process. For this type of collaboration, you need someone who goes beyond playing club tracks. I’m also a huge fan of what she does for GHE20 G0TH1K (pronounced Ghetto Gothik). Maybe we should talk about that. How did it start?
Venus X: It started in 2009 at Beauty Bar in Brooklyn, and I didn’t know how to DJ. It’ll be three years in October since that party.
Item Idem: Wow, and you’ve changed the face of the city. It’s crazy.
Venus X: In 2009, I had an iPod, a computer, and a mixer. I would just DJ a lot. I had a monthly party where I only played Siouxsie and the Banshees and Dipset — black and white, back to back. I was going to goth parties where they didn’t play any black music, and I was going to white parties where they didn’t play any hood music, so I decided to put them together. We kept outgrowing small bars, and eventually our friend started managing Orchard Street, which is where we all started to meet — all the artists, kids, queens from the voguing scene, the cool art school kids, the skateboarders — everybody just started hanging out in the same club. A lot of new DJs started playing with us like Total Freedom (who played in LA on Cyril’s piece), Kingdom, NGUZUNGUZU, $hayne, and Physical Therapy. We had this solid core of new sound.
Item Idem: It’s the voice of a generation somehow. I’ve been in New York for four years, and I’ve befriended these people. There are so many creative talents in that scene. Three years ago, GHE20 G0TH1K started, and DIS Magazine happened around the same time, and those are linked in the way that they promote all these people moving things forward with video, sound, and fashion. For example, $hayne and Telfar are both DJs and fashion designers. I think there’s something about New York right now. It’s like the return of hedonism after the decay of post-911, where things were more difficult, and the art reflected that. It was not very positive. This is really happening, people are enjoying themselves. As she said, there are plenty of tribes coming into one, and the music is like that, too; you can play anything.
Venus X: Like how we started out playing punk, goth, and cold wave, then hip-hop, old Three 6 Mafia, and dark ghetto goth. It’s how I found juke; I only had two tracks before it exploded. A lot of DJs are dance-oriented, but there are some of us that really take that idea to heart. You can really mix anything that has sound to it — whether it’s a movie clip, an instrumental, a cappella, or a TV show. Whatever you want to do, just do it. If you’re conscious and present in the moment, you’ll mix it properly and you’ll tell a story. We’re not here to just play parties, make money, and get wasted. We like to party, but we have a desire to restore the narrative of New York, because it got too commercial. We were like, “We’re from there, this isn’t fun, this is full of shit, and we can’t afford to go places and buy things. Then we’re not let in at half the places that we wanna go to.” It became the epicenter of power exchange — when you have intergenerational people partying from ages 19 to 45, from all walks of life, getting to know each other, becoming friends, dating, and working together. Cyril and I never would have worked together three years ago. We didn’t even know each other. But all of a sudden this thing happened.
Item Idem: It’s been a giant connector. I respect creativity more than anything. As long as you’re a good creative, I adore you. In that scene, it’s incredible how many talented people there are. Maybe it’s just the tip of the iceberg; we don’t know them all yet, but when you can see all these kids that help each other on shoots and work together, you know it’s special. She’s helped put a lot of fresh faces up.
It’s not like the party you go to every Friday where you know what to expect. Every time it comes back, it comes back differently.
Venus X: Something is definitely happening. It’s like the cyclone of everyone’s talents. I liked working on Cyril’s piece because, for instance, I’ve never been to Japan, I’ve never seen a dekotora, and now it’s something I know about and love. I feel like when I was in college learning about art, it didn’t relate to my life at all. I respect it, and I’ll learn about it in order to have conversations with people in this field, but I don’t care. I can understand if something was relevant during its time, but that relevance isn’t here now. Those people are dead, or they’re old, they’re not cool, they’re not subversive anymore, they don’t care about the community, or they can’t care because they have their own families and lives. Now, art, music, what you do during the night, and what you do during the day are all becoming one, and everyone’s on the same field, and we can all talk to each other, collaborate, and engage. It’s cool to have artwork that’s more relevant. It’s funny how people just assign value to art, even if no one relates to it. It doesn’t matter if something costs $100 million, if no one can relate to it or be affected by it. Just because somebody says it’s cool, it trickles down through the necessary channels. It’s just like popstars. Yeah they’re talented, and they’re good, but there’s a lot of marketing and power that’s put behind them, because somebody else is benefitting from it. There are all these cracks in the sidewalk now, all these things that have started sprouting.
Item Idem: Venus, what else do you have planned besides re-launching GHE20 G0TH1K? I love the format of GHE20 G0TH1K. It’s been warehouse parties, in clubs in the city, illegal, legal, it stops, there’s one party, it comes back, or it stops for three months. Everyone’s addicted, so every time she tweets that GHE20 G0TH1K is coming back, people are excited. It’s not like the party you go to every Friday where you know what to expect. Every time it comes back, it comes back differently.
Venus X: I’m trying to get stable. It’s hard. Nobody knew that this thing would transform the scene and bring so many people together to be creative and open up new doors. A lot of competition and new parties come with it. There’s an energy that’s lost when there’s consistency. There’s a reason to be fresh, new, and not overdoing it, or wearing it all the way until it’s done. We’re constantly pushing the refresh button. If there’s nothing new to put out there, we don’t need to rape people to make money. The whole year that I haven’t been throwing the party, I’ve been running around DJing other cities and catching people up to speed.
There are a lot of men in this DJ community, and also a lot of nerds and people like me who are just good at what they do, even if I’m not super good and haven’t been doing it that long. That’s opening the door for this to become a new sound, as opposed to just us looking for artists and putting them on. We’re giving our local friends time to cultivate their talent. The reason why everything was so successful before was because there was this new wave of people, who had never been heard before and no one was paying attention to them. Now, everyone’s obsessed with them. All of a sudden, in 2012, everyone wants to hire these DJs, but three years ago, no one would put them on a party.
Until there’s that next wave and that new energy of talent, I’m not just gonna throw a party, just for people to say that they went. Fuck you. No. They all want it. You didn’t want to come to this nerdy party three years ago, you thought it was so awkward, but now everyone’s a goth and a punk and fashionable. We’re not paid, and we’re also not excited about this. When you guys get over your little moment where goth is trending, and there are new people that need a voice, we’ll come back.
This is about a platform. At the end of the day, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and when there’s a necessity for it, things will be provided. There was a necessity for it. There was so much great talent and music that people just weren’t giving a fuck about, because of racism, tradition, and all these different things.
There wouldn’t be an A$AP Rocky being all fashionable and emo right now if it wasn’t for brown kids throwing raves for years in New York, making it ok for us and the word goth to be together. This isn’t just about fashion or about now, this is about our whole lives being able to go somewhere and have a good time and listen to music from all around the world, being made by kids like us that just wanna hear something besides the radio.
Item Idem: I’m going to China to launch a fake Art Biennale, posing as a real fashion brand, or maybe it's the opposite. It’s called Shanzhai Biennial. It’s a large and ongoing project that I have been working on for about a year now with my collaborator, Babak Radboy. It starts at the end of September as an official commission for Beijing Design Week and will then reappear virally and sporadically in many different cities around the world in different formats and shapes. FELON will possibly go to Miami for Art Basel in December. If we manage to do it, maybe Venus can DJ on it again with our gang of friends — Telfar, $hayne, and more. It would be pretty major.