Brain Crash: Head of Joseph Morales

By Lee Anderson

I visit Joseph Morales as he prepares for his upcoming show at The Brooklyn Art Studios, a new art space located in The Greenpoint Industrial Center. His art studio is not what I expected, especially after having visited his other studio in Queens over two years ago. That was a dim-lit room located up a lung-testing series of stairs, the hallways choked with paint blotches. The ceilings were cavernous, which they had to be to house Morales’ paintings, some of them over eight feet high.

His new studio is cleaner, brighter, no stairs. Two faceless mannequins regard me mutely as I enter, both wearing T-shirts with designs Morales created for his new clothing line. Other Morales T-shirts lay in neat, folded stacks on a table near the entrance. The only work station appears to be a drafting table against the wall. Not an easel or a wipe rag in sight.

But it’s more than just his studio which seems different. Morales himself seems different, more serious. Not too serious, just like he’s figured something out. I take a bench and chat with him while he swivels listlessly in a white-furred office chair. A small oscillating fan is our only defense from the pressing mid-day heat outside.

When did you decide to become an artist?
See, I still don't think that's happened to me. It's more something that you just do. It's another life, another thing that's part of you. It wasn't like I woke up one day and decided this was what I would do. Most of the time, I don't even feel like I'm an artist. I guess what we do as people who create things is we use what we have in our heads - images of memories of life experiences - this is all just narration. You can call it art or call it being an artist. It's irrelevant.

So you see yourself as being more than just an artist?
Yeah, why not? Life is big. And it's short. People just want to peg you and put you on the spot as one thing or another because it makes them feel more comfortable with themselves.  They want to call you an artist or a musician when you really can be both. You can be anything.

What would you like for someone who goes to one of your shows to come away feeling?
It's interesting because they're making up the posters and everything for my show now, right? So they're asking me for a title to the show and the first thing I came up with was making it a: "Hello, my name is…" Because I want to make it exactly that: An introduction for the viewer or attendee to who it is that I am, as an artist and as a person. I want them to come away thinking, "Hey, here's a guy who has a strong, artistic vision and a voice and he's exercising it."

So why do you paint what you paint? Why not paint horsies and butterflies or something Target would sell?
(Laughs, then pauses.) This is what I'm doing honestly from my heart. You have to look at my stuff with an open heart and an open mind. I mean, it's not for everyone. And that's the beauty of it. I'm okay with that. You can’t win them all.

What do you think about when you're painting?
I just listen to music mainly. Music is a big influence on me.

Who do you listen to?
I listen to Sun Ra, Coltrane, Miles. And Biggie. I've been listening to Biggie a lot. I like Jay. Jay's cool. It depends on the mood I'm going for. But music definitely inspires me. It gets my creative juices flowing and it can set the tempo of what it is I want to do visually.

How has being Hispanic influenced your work?
It's influenced my work a lot. For instance, I did a painting - about 7 1/2 feet tall - for Celia Cruz. She has a song about this Cuban villager who happens to be the gravedigger. When his daughter dies, he has to bury his daughter, and I have a daughter, so that's a heavy topic for me. I wanted to tackle that, so I came up with this painting and it really holds a place in my heart. I came up with an image of a man wearing a guayabera, which is a peasant shirt that's embroidered. And he's wearing a Fedora hat with a feather in it and, up-top, he's a marionette. And he's holding his daughter over a hole that he's just dug, right? And if you look at his legs, you see that his legs are like tree limbs into the icy ground. So that's what I painted to portray that feeling. And there's also a Cuban flag with the colors bled out. I donated this to the Celia Cruz Foundation.

What other artistic mediums would you like to explore? 
I'm looking to further develop my last video that I did. It’s an installation called "Brain Crash: The Head of God." In developing this, I've been picking out key symbols from the film and creating sculptures based on these images, so you can get a full experience on the space and depth between them

Very provocative title. 
Basically, it's describing what's happening in my brain in that delicate moment before it crashes from sensory overload. So, to me, the head of God is the most powerful symbol in that composition, so I attached it to the title. But there are images that relate to direct attachments to the brain. The image of God himself as another form, making an appearance as a triangle as He balances an eyeball on its uppermost peak.

How did you get into making t-shirts?
This good friend of mine, this lawyer, we got into this discussion and he was telling me about how a bottom line is good to have. He thinks I'm a great artist, so he said to me, "Why don't you take this to another level?" So I thought about it and I wondered: "What is the best way that I could do that and still keep my integrity?" Because you have to have integrity.

How do you plan on selling them? At your shows? On the street? Consignment?
Yeah, yeah, all of that. It's just going to be another part of what it is that I do. That's why I want to use my name. Brand my signature. I want to see how far I can take it while making fun of the whole thing, living in both realms.

What contemporary artist do you most admire?
Know who impresses me the most? Damien Hirst. The way he's built his empire. And I like that. The possibilities of that…

Joseph Morales will have his show at The Brooklyn Art Studios, 276 Greenpoint Avenue, August 19 – September 10; Art opening will be held on August 19 from 6-10pm.

Elisa Toro Franky

By Lee Anderson

I’m always trying to squeeze in more time for writing, but it’s hard when doing something else is paying the rent. But I keep doing it. I keep writing. It’s as if I have no choice. We all have that impulse to express ourselves, whether through writing, dancing, painting, or – in a weird way – even doing absolutely nothing.

Anyway, Elisa Toro Franky agrees to meet me in midtown since that’s where Port Authority is located. She takes a bus from there every day to and from Livingston, New Jersey where she rehearses with the New Jersey Ballet Company. She’s just been granted an immigration visa as recognition for being “a performer of brilliance.” It’s the equivalent of the U.S. claiming that if she were to return to her home country of Columbia, our own country would be culturally poorer for it. I wholeheartedly agree. Elisa has also performed with the Miami City Ballet, the Washington D.C. Ballet, and the Harlem Ballet Company.

We speak while seated in one of those part-bodega part-cafes that seem to hold up every corner of midtown. By the end of my interview with Elisa - under these too-bright fluorescents in this godless rest shelter for overtired tourists and the mumbling homeless - I will come to more fully understand the reason behind why I keep writing.

So why ballet as opposed to any other form of dance?

I just gradually fell into it as I got older. My mother would always encourage my brother and me to explore extracurricular activities outside of regular school and she always wanted us to explore artistic activities like music and painting and then she would notice that I was more flexible physically than the average girl. So Mom suggested what don’t we try ballet? I was originally taking music lessons with my brother. Some singing and we were learning how to read music, you know, the notes and the scales, but I wasn’t really drawn into it. Into that learning process. And my Mom, she could notice that and she said, “Elisa, this is not an obligation. Do you want to try something else?” And then that’s when she suggested what she suggested. “If you want to try ballet, we can look at some schools.” I said yes to that suggestion. And the first minute, from the very first class, it caught my attention.

Were you drawn in by the way you were able to express yourself through your body? 

When you’re eight, you’re not thinking about expressing yourself through your body. Or maybe you’re able to do it, but you’re not very conscious. Because that comes with age, with experience. But at that time it’s just a manifestation of yourself, of your innocence, of your joy. It was fun. It was simply fun.

What’s the hardest thing about ballet?

The sacrifices. That means you choose to be away from family. To be away from your closest friends. To be away from your country. I left home when I was seventeen. The minute I arrived in Miami to pursue dance, it was a massive change for me. A change in culture, a change in social environment- it was massive. And it was very difficult. The culture shock. The homesickness. And stepping away from people whom you have been with your entire life. The first year that I was away, I felt an emptiness within me constantly. Somehow as time passed I was able to build up strength, build up autonomy, and I became partially independent. You adapt. I questioned sometimes whether it was worth it, to be away from the people who I love the most. I was wondering if this was going to take me somewhere, but how? When you’re first starting out, you have so many questions in your head because you don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the road. You’re just starting and you’re seeing that it’s not easy. You’re wondering if you made the right decision. It’s uncomfortable. But I stayed.

Talk about what it was like when you first came to New York.

I found it fascinating. It wasn’t hard for me. I didn’t find it aggressive. I found it as being full of opportunities. Just found it massive in the sense that there’s so much to see, so much to explore, so much to learn. So much to look at in this city. I felt I could find a place for myself in New York, that I had something to bring to the table, that I was unique. I was inspired. I was able to attend many different performances from many different companies. I could see for myself how high the artistic activity is.

A lot has been written on what it takes to be a dancer. Much has been especially made of the body issues that the profession can carry. Are the concerns valid?

Thank God that has never been an issue with me. Thank God. But I have seen dancers around me who are very aware of their body condition. Or very insecure over their body condition or they become obsessed with getting thinner. Why? Because ballet is a physical form. It’s a physical activity. It’s visual. Also, you have to stay small so you can be lifted and it’s a specific aesthetic that needs a slender body. It needs a beautiful appearance. Because that’s the way you present yourself on stage. There’s a number of physical communications, so it’s all about image. It’s all about physical expression. And your body is the one instrument that you have. So you have to take care of it and you have to polish it. That’s what we (dancers) do our whole lives is polish our bodies. You have to pay attention to how you look and you have to pay attention to how you feel. I especially make sure to pay attention to how I feel.

Have you ever injured yourself really badly?

When I was in Washington D.C., since I wasn’t used to that huge amount of performances, my left achilles was seriously swollen. I needed a session like with a physical therapist. They needed to apply some anti-inflammatory procedure that works through electricity. They have a device and they have two electrodes that attached on two spots along the achilles. It was a serious matter. But the minute you have an injury, that’s a restriction for you. Another time, I landed wrong from a jump and my knee was irritated. The knee is essential. I mean, everything in your body is essential, but the lower limbs are very important.

Apart from pain, dancers also have to deal with a lot of criticism from peers, from teachers…how do you deal with that?

As I said, dance is physical expression, so you’re constantly exposed. You’re communicating through your body. You are using this as your instrument and you cannot hide anything. And you’re very vulnerable because everyone is observing. Your peers, teachers, faculty,…and we understand that if someone corrects you it is because that person wants you to look better. That person is doing this for your own good. If a teacher tells you that you should do something another way, it looks better. Maybe this posture you need to take…They have this experience that they know what you need to do in order to be better. That’s constructive criticism. But you also need encouragement. You cannot fall in one extreme or another. You cannot be only criticized. You need to have a balance. This is what you’re doing good. This is what looks beautiful. And this is off. This is what you need to fix.

Describe your typical day.

I wake up at 6:45am. I leave at 7:30 to Port Authority. Catch the bus at 8:15 to New Jersey. Takes me an hour to get to Livingston. Then there’s a training session that starts at ten. At 11:30 rehearsal starts and we go until three. Right now I’m working on soloist parts, which is a new experience for me definitely. Demanding. Challenging. The artistic faculty are demanding so much from me. They’re expecting me to perform at a higher level of artistry and technique. And I’m ready for that. I’ve never been given this kind of chance. And I was waiting for this door to open and finally it’s open and I’m stepping into new land. I worked for this for a long time and now that it’s happening, I also need the courage to cross that door, the courage to take it like it’s mine.

Have you experienced any jealousy against your success?

The truth of the matter is that dancing is extremely competitive. How many dancers would like to have a job like the one I have right now? Lots. But people who get to know me, dancers who I have danced with and my friends outside of dance, they know me. They know that I have worked so hard for this. So hard. It’s not given to me for free. I know this. And I can tell you that I have remained humble. I cannot walk away from humility. It’s not natural for me. I think that’s one of those values that were fostered at home. And also I do appreciate what’s given to me. So two things: You need to be grateful and you need to work hard for what you get. It’s very important for me to keep working so hard on something I love. Something that makes me happy.


By Katherine Tarpinian at Vice

Allison Brainard is a Brooklyn-based artist who blends experimental dance, theater, comedy, and multimedia together to create spontaneous performances that forgo traditional choreography.

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By Emilay Nathan at ARTNews

To prepare for a solo exhibition last summer at Société Berlin, 28-year-old Trisha Baga showed up with her laptop, a few hard drives containing an arsenal of found and manufactured sound bites, animations, video clips, and still images, and one small box full of garbage. 

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View From Nowhere

By Nathan Jurgenson at The New Inquiry

Modernity has long been obsessed with, perhaps even defined by, its epistemic insecurity, its grasping toward big truths that ultimately disappoint as our world grows only less knowable. 

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