We spoke with chef Danny Bowien, the founder of Mission Chinese.
We spoke with chef Danny Bowien, the founder of Mission Chinese.
Photo Matteo Mobilio
Interview Slater Stanley
Styling Danny Bowien
What really drew me into Mission Chinese was all the lights. It looks like a club in there! What is the relationship for you between nightlife and food?
Restaurants for me, have a level of escapism. Going out to a meal is just like going out for a night out.
I noticed that it has a lot of neon lighting and is super spacious. Did you have a hand in the interior design?
We were fortunate to be able to work with some really creative people who realized our vision, Alex Gvojic, Lauren Devine, and Nikki Mirsaeid. We wanted the restaurant to be indicative of its Bushwick surroundings, so it definitely has a brutalist and industrial feel. Our first restaurant on Orchard Street was tiny. That lasted a year and a half, and then we had to move. The Chinatown location is much bigger. It was interesting and fun to have gone into this new space, because we got to build it from the ground up.
There is a very palpable feel of Bushwick in the restaurant, it’s very youthful and light hearted. I visited the Mission Chinese in Manhattan which is like the older sister to the Bushwick location. Do you have any plans for opening another location?
Right now Bushwick is only four months old, so there has to be a lot of attention and time put into its development. I have lots of hopes and aspirations to open up more locations and do more projects. Right now my time is dedicated to operating both locations, which is a lot. I tend to thrive in chaotic environments and when I have lots of things on the table. So ideally we would be doing a lot more.
Your son is adorable and is all over your Instagram which I think grounds you for your audience; more than a mastermind chef, you are a relatable human being. From the ingredients in your dishes, you seem to view food with a childlike curiosity. How does your son inspire you in terms of cooking?
My son is starting to like spicy food. For the first couple years, I found myself eating a lot of food I was preparing for him— very simple, clean flavors, and things that aren’t spicy or overwhelming. That was informative of the Bushwick location. A lot of dishes adopt the less-is-more approach. Cooking for my son has definitely informed how my cooking style is evolving into a more health conscious and simplistic approach. At Bushwick, we have really dialed down the amount of meat we serve, leaning a lot more towards vegetarian, even vegan-based.
Yes, I so appreciated that. I am a vegan myself.
As a chef, you can lean on certain ingredients, but it’s fun to challenge yourself in other ways. Like, what can I do without putting pork belly or bacon into this dish? Also the demographic, and demands of Bushwick clientele versus lower Manhattan has been a really great challenge, and I’ve embraced it.
Your son and I both have a lot in common; we both have mullets and we both love spicy food! You were talking early about sources of inspiration. I see you doing work in fashion, and other fields aside from cooking. How has Instagram affected the way you interact with your customers as well as collaborate with other creators?
Social media has changed everything. When I was starting to cook, there was a mystique to it—you’d hear about a dish this chef was doing in Spain, and you’d have to go seek out a cookbook. Then you’d lust after it, because cookbooks were really expensive, and you’d hang out at cookbook stores. Now, everything is so accessible which is really helpful. But the good thing about food is that you can’t download it. You still have to go eat it. Social media has definitely helped broaden our reach, but it can be depressing. Everyone is always presenting their best case scenarios. I use social media lightly and don’t take it too seriously. Most of the pictures are of me and my son doing silly stuff, or food.
Your whole Instagram has such an air of softness, which is very comforting.
I’m 36 now, and I’ve been through a fair amount since moving to New York seven years ago. I feel like there has to be lightness in everything for me at this point. I’ve had insane opportunities because of social media, but I do find myself taking time to disconnect from Instagram. I grew up in Oklahoma, and when I was younger the only access I had to food was through watching stuff on TV, like Food Network. I don’t follow a lot of food-based people on Instagram; I tend to follow people who inspire me or silly stuff that makes me laugh.
That’s a great way to not get sucked into the spiral. You are very vocal about your sobriety. How has your life and the food you create been affected by that decisionI haven’t drank for about 6 years. When I stopped drinking I was still self medicating in different ways, with drugs or prescription drugs. I woke up one day and realized that I hadn’t been sober for the last 18 years. Every night I felt like I had to drink to go to bed; the industry I worked in was very demanding and I got tired of being hungover. I had to get a handle on my life and my business. At the time when we were blowing up, I couldn’t have been more unhappy personally, but to everyone else it looked like I was on top of the world. After becoming successful, you think you have to live up to a certain expectation. It was really difficult for me to break out of that mindset. Sobriety has helped me become less fearful of success. It’s improved my cooking too, because I used to be high all the time, and I used to think I had all these cut great and amazing ideas, but I was just high.
At work, every day there is a challenge. The dishwasher is going to be broken, you’re going to have a leak somewhere—whatever it is, it’s about recovery, not running away from problems. You can’t close the restaurant because the dishwasher isn’t working, and so you have to look at it in the face and walk straight through it. I was so terrified to fall down. People want to make it seem like they’re living their best life and everything is great and that’s just not reality. Things happen. I have fallen down but I’ve gotten back up, and continue to push on. You learn from your mistakes. Failure is probably the most important part of success. [Recovery] helped me get to the place where I’m not afraid to get up and move on. Every day is a new day.
I want to congratulate you on that milestone. You have articulated the clarity it has obviously given you. From my experience working in kitchens, I’ve noticed that many cooks are heavily tattooed. Do you think that has to do with escapism and catharsis?
I grew up in Oklahoma, and when I still lived in Oklahoma it was illegal, you couldn’t legally get tattooed.
Oh my God.
I just got back from Oklahoma and I got a tattoo there because it’s legal now. Tattoos are another from of expression. A tattoo is an example of something that’s really painful, that you push yourself to get through— it’s challenging. I usually get tattoos that take a few hours, and there is a level of spontaneity sometimes. I just got a tattoo of the logo of a chicken fried steak sandwich restaurant in Oklahoma, “Del Rancho.”
Oh, that’s cute.
After opening Bushwick, I feel like I got probably five or six tattoos within six months. I also base them around celebratory times. I’ll do an event with a friend in from out of town and then afterwards I’ll say, “We should go get a tattoo together!” It’s fun. I don’t take it too seriously.
Rad. I can relate. How did you start cooking and why did you choose to focus specifically on Chinese cuisine?
I chose to focus on the food that I really enjoy eating. I was adopted when I was three months old, my parents are American and I’m South Korean. I grew up in a religious household and we went to church five days a week. When people asked what I wanted to do, I always said I want to be a doctor or an eye doctor. So I worked at eye doctor’s offices throughout high school. I didn’t want to go to college, I joined a band. When I was 19, I had to make a move. My friends lived in San Francisco and told me about a culinary school there. And so I used that opportunity to get out of Oklahoma, and entered a very formative time in my life. I partied so crazy in San Francisco eventually I needed to move, so I moved to New York and worked for fine dining restaurants. Then I caught the cooking bug. It wasn’t so much the food as it was the chaotic environment that I was in all the time— having so many pots on the stove at once, so to speak.
I couldn’t afford to live in New York so I moved back to San Francisco. There I found myself cooking at all these really fancy restaurants-- it was pristine, precise, and delicate but on our days off, we would go eat insanely spicy Szechuan food. I didn’t want a fine dining restaurant; I wanted a place that felt a little more democratized. I grew up eating fast food in Oklahoma and eating at Chinese restaurants. The first Mission Chinese restaurant we did was a pop-up take-out restaurant. You don’t even notice it if you walk by, and I love how it blended in. So I ultimately got into Chinese food by making Szechuan food. The real challenge of cooking Szechuan food is finding that balance between the spice and saltiness of the food. I love that challenge.
All that optometry practice explains the detail you regard your food with.
In the wake of Anthony Bourdain’s passing this last year, many chefs were moved to share what he meant to them. What has his legacy meant to you?
My first job in New York, I had no idea how to work in kitchens — I was just out of culinary school — and I got caught reading a book while I was working...
My chef was like, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m sorry, I’ll put it away.” Then I showed it to him and he said, “Oh, that’s a really good book.” I was terrified of my chef at the time, but we actually connected over that book, Kitchen Confidential, which I read cover to cover. I was really a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s writing even before I even started watching him on TV. The first time I met [Anthony Bourdain], someone had reached out to us in San Francisco, and there was a show at the time called The Layover. The premise was, he was in a city for 24 hours when he had a layover, and would reach out to chefs in the city and to show him around.
[Anthony Bourdain] asked me to be on the show, so I met him, and took him to all the places I like to go. I was terrified but he made me so comfortable around the cameras. The thing I remember about him the most, was that night, we went to six or seven locations to film. News got out about where he was and the next stop we’d go to, we would show up and more and more people would be there, just watching. At every location, he would stop and hold the production crew up and say hi to every single person and shake their hand. The producers asked me to try to get him to move on to the next location because he would engage with everyone. There was such a personable feeling and warmth about him. He was larger than life. I would always get nervous to hang out with him even as a friend, but whenever we were together everything just stopped, you had his attention. He helped publish my first cookbook. Anthony Bourdain made a point to be present during the moments you had with him. I remember one of the last things we did when we filmed our show Mind of a Chef, there was a party. No one expected him to stay more than 10 minutes, but he stayed the entire time. He surprised us so many times... One time he brought Iggy Pop to Mission Chinese. That was the first time I’ve ever seen him nervous. A lot of times with celebrities, you feel like you don’t want to take their time, but that was never the case with him. I remember his warmth, how genuinely connected he was whenever we would speak.
Well thank you so much for your warmth and time today.
We spoke with Shameik Moore, the new voice of Miles Morales, “Spider-Man” in the Academy Award nominated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
We spoke with Shameik Moore, the new voice of Miles Morales, “Spider-Man” in the Academy Award nominated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Photo Kelia Anne
Interview Satchel Lee & Caroline D’Arcy Gorman
Styling Timothy Chernyaev
Grooming Sascha Quarles
At this point the answer to the question is obvious, but for the people who still somehow don’t understand, can you explain the significance of having a person of color in this iconic role?
I think the fact that Miles is African and Puerto Rican is intriguing because it is new for Spider-Man himself. We all know the character Peter Parker from growing up. But Peter Parker is introducing Miles Morales in a very cool and new way. His character could be any ethnicity, but I think it’s iconic and important because he is bilingual. It’s cool that he is Puerto Rican and African American when he could be white, Asian, whatever—but he’s black. This character is very relatable and lovable. It’s a new take on who Spider-Man is and what it means to be Spider-Man, or any hero for that matter.
What do you bring to this Spider-Man that we haven’t seen before?
Sweetness and swagger, according to [Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse directors] Phil Lorde and Chris Miller.
Two years ago you wrote in your journal that you were going to play Miles Morales as Spider-Man. What else do you know that we don’t?
That we’re going to win the Oscar!
If you had superpowers what would they be?
I would want to be able to use 100% of my brain power and maybe even read minds.
Describe your sense of style.
I like to call it chic with a street twist.
How do you take time for yourself?
Going out on dinner dates. Going to the movies. Working out in the gym. Writing treatments. Coming up with ideas for music videos and short films. In 2019, I’m getting back into meditating, journaling and reading books. A good friend of mine just gave me three books that I’m excited to start reading.
What does 2019 hold for you?
I’m filming a movie, a TV show, and releasing a mixtape. I’ll also be releasing music videos that I directed. I’ll be directing other music artists that are friends on mine. But of course, I'll continue to work on my original superhero series for the future!
What are your resolutions?
To be happy, mentally, physically and spiritually, to realign myself with the universe, to make sure I value my loved ones and they all feel my love for them. I just want to be a better version of myself. I want to push myself and the ones I love to the limits and do everything to the best of my ability.
One item you can’t leave the house without?
Where is your happy place? Why?
My house in Atlanta because I grew up there and it’s very special to me. I feel like I’m in my own world when I’m in my house…well technically, I guess I am in my own world.
When will you release your next music project?
Spring, after the Oscars.
Who are some of your musical inspirations?
Early Chris Brown, Confessions-era Usher, Michael Jackson, Avant, Music Soul Child, Aaliyah, Biggie Smalls and I’ll end if off with Sean de Paul.
What’s your morning routine?
I wake up, brush my teeth, wash my face, and work out. That’s the only true routine I have. Everything else varies after that.
What do you find to be most grounding for you in your life?
My mom and our relationship. I'm very close with her.
A sign of our modern age is an insistence on complexity and contradiction. None of us are any one thing. Billie Eilish, with her raw, rough teen angst imbued with measured emotion, represents a particular duality. She rocks a loose fitted tee and a pair of Nikes that read, “suck my dick,” while also reminding her fans, “not to suffocate [their] loved ones.” She has dropped a single that demands we see her in a crown one day, while late the night before she played the piano in an empty dark room, reminding us that “pain doesn’t go away [we] just get used to it.” Queens like Billie are unconfined by simple vocabulary, unable to be put down by a simple label, comment, or review. And that’s why she can make an audience of thousands jump along, raging in unison to an unforgiving bass. Billie’s vulnerability comes across her music and its dynamic sound, with soft dulcet tones paired with an eye-rolling, middle-fingering “FUCK YOU” irreverence.The subversive romanticism she captures and allows to co-exist with a biting spirit of raw, unabashed youth make Billie Eilish’s unique style a captivating one. The soft vocals that melt over synths in “Ocean Eyes” pose a contrast that only our complex moment could allow. The duality of gentle yet unapologetic makes her a true symbol of the now, and it only leaves us wanting more.
The Christian Siriano Experience
Article by — Caroline D’Arcy Gorman
Photo by— Eva Zar
Styled by — Yên Nguyen
Art Direction — Jasper Soloff
Hair by — Eric Vosburg
Makeup by — Serina Takei
Fashion Assistant — Allie Nanasi
The red dress is gargantuan in both nature and stature. Its ruffles and curves
move and sway and as fabric falls upon fabric, the dress comes to life like an animal unto itself. It’s a living, breathing piece of art, and the designer behind it is about as shy as his vision. As Christian Siriano talks, I can see the wheels turning, the vision unfolding, his dream of a universe springing into being: “I come up with these dreams; I can see how a piece might move without even seeing it walk yet.” Whether it’s a voluptuous red dress or a slim metallic suit, Siriano’s sentiment is steadfast. There is always a bold elegance to his work. It’s in his careful and sharp stitchwork, in his magnificent colors, in his unabashed daring. Siriano’s incredible success over the past ten years has countered a stagnancy in fashion, a world that prides itself on progress and unconventionality while often remaining stuck in the grooves of
the very status quo it seeks to oppose. “I like to pick models that are personally interesting but also powerful,” Siriano explains. “I always felt like it wouldn’t make sense to exclude anybody from that dream world because fashion should be a fun, beautiful, emotional thing.” His insistence on innovation has sent Siriano to the top, solidifying his position as one of the most celebrated queer designers
of the past decade. He is a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and most recently included in the TIME 100 list of most influential people in the world. And, thankfully, he never stops. “When it’s calm, I freak out. The grind, the craziness, the constant creating, the overstimulation actually pushes me the most, because each time I make one piece, that one inspires another, and another.” It’s not only desire that keeps Siriano constantly creating, it’s demand. Soriano dressed seventeen women at this year’s Oscars alone, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Who knows what’s coming to the table! One minute we’re making a beautiful dress for a mom going to a wedding, the next it’s something for Beyonce, and the next it’s tour costumes for a new artist. Every single day, it’s something new. That spontaneity is really the best part.”
Siriano grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, and found himself immersed in performance at a young age. He would put on plays and entered training to be a ballet dancer. “I was always into
the fans world of dressing up. That translated into transforming people and their lives, whether it’s for an event or just their daily life.” He followed in the footsteps of his older sister, Shannon, whose eccentricity always stood out: “She would wear tutus and platform shoes and giant hats with feathers, and her hair was always different.” Despite her eccentricity, Shannon was accepted, proving to Christian that he could be himself and do what he wanted. “She definitely inspired me to be confident and forceful.”
It is truly remarkable how Soriano manages to balance so much, especially knowing how demanding and grueling the fashion industry can be. I can’t help but ask him about the elegance with which he juggles his creative output, the business side of his brand, his dynamic personal life, and all the rest. “That is the challenge, every single day. I try to take a beat and feel good every now and then. With any artist, the number one issue is almost never being satisfied. You feel like you always have to do more. I have a hand
in every single piece that we put out, and it can be hard to let things go. It’s an obsession, which can be both good and bad.”
It’s like having a baby, I say. “So many babies! Like a hundred babies every season! Oh my gosh!” he says, throwing up his hands and laughing. “It’s an emotional ride, too. If people don’t like it, or they love it, or if something doesn’t get a response… But as designers, we set ourselves up for instant criticism. That’s the job, which—and I say this to a lot of young designers—is the hardest part. Sometimes fashion can be a thankless world, especially now, because it moves so quickly. Everyone is onto the next event, the next project, the next thing. You don’t have time to sit there and feel proud.”
But Soriano deserves to feel more than proud. The change he has created with his past decade of work is tangible. Fashion has historically predetermined its market: who gets to enjoy what
clothing, the body types and capital one must have to do so. Yet the the world Christian Soriano is creating for us is different. “I’m into everyone. I get really invested in people and am able to connect pretty quickly. That is a big part of it; if you are creating a custom piece for somebody, you have to connect. You have to understand what is happening in their mind because you can tell when somebody feels great in something. Personal identity is all about expressing oneself visually. If you want to wear a beautiful dress, you should be able to, no matter who you are.” And his world is not contained merely to the runway; his new store The Curated NYC is a mini Soriano metropolis, a physical manifestation of that intricate vision inside his head. “We wanted to curate a space that feels like a closet, or even a home, that doesn’t feel unobtainable. It is really important that anybody an come in, no matter what they’re looking for, and find something at all price points.
I wanted the store to feel more like an experience. I think that’s a big part of what is lost in fashion sometimes.”
Christian’s energy is palpable, and even though his mind may be ricocheting between a million places at once, his vision and objective are constantly clear. “I make what I want to make, and I have always done that. Even in the beginning when people judged some of the big ball gowns I did, I have always stuck to what I want to create, and how I want to create for. And I am still one of ht only designers showing a diverse group of people on the runway.” Inevitably, I ask him if he thinks the industry is changing. “I am proud of what we are doing. I get asked all the time why other brands aren’t doing what we are, and I don’t know the answer. It only takes one or two people to really change the business for other people to follow. But sadly, there are very influential people who are just not interested.”
Even so, there is no doubt that Christian Siriano has paved the way for young queer and trans designers on the rise. He is a champion of diversity both on the runway and red carpet; Siriano’s couture, his shows, and his success tell them to move forward with inspiration, intention, and clarity. The rest of the world will just have to catch up. “You have to embrace everything that you love, and really do what you love to do. The number one thing; It takes time. If you are a young creative in any field, you can’t stop because it isn’t exactly what you want it to be right away. You’ve got to stick it out. It took me almost ten years to really get in a good place.” To describe where Siriano has landed thus far “a good place,” is a humble understatement. And, knowing Christian Siriano, it’s only going to get better. “At least fashion isn’t dead yet!”
What does fantasy mean to you?
Anything can be fantasy. I could be living in a fantasy and never know it. Maybe because I can’t see myself the way other people see me.
What you touched on right there… That’s my biggest fear.
Yes. The idea that I am living a certain way or doing a certain thing, and other people are not perceiving it the way I expect. That really scares me.
It scares me too. I like when people think positively, and I’m always worried about being perceived the right way. So I feel you. But also, if you are living the way you want to live and doing things you want to do, you can’t go wrong. Regardless if you feel you’re being perceived “incorrectly.”
Yeah. Fantasy can be a distant place. It can be a far off thing in your mind. But it can also be an idea that you have, one you bring to fruition through
manifestation and hard work. The Internet adds another dimension to that, too.
The Internet is crazy. You can create your own universe and your own persona. You can use the Internet to portray your wildest fantasies. You can actually bring them to life.
What did you think your twenties would look like when you were younger? What was your fantasy back then?
When I was a kid I never wanted to grow up. I understood that kids had something special. I was so stuck when it was time to graduate; I had no idea what I saw myself doing. I luckily found a creative profession, one that I feel like I am good at. I went to a performing arts school for seven years, and being around so many types of creative people during such a formative time opened up my eyes. It guided me into what I am doing now. I was exposed to a lot of different types of characters and people really early on, always without judgement. I had friends that were in photography, or costume and design, or musical theater, and we all collaborated. I had to audition to get into that school, and that experience of auditioning is really similar to castings and being in shows. it was a really impactful time of my life, because even though I’m not dancing or singing, I
am still doing things that revolve around the world I grew up in.
I live in New York, and I always think about the children I will bear one day.
And if they wanna do art, they should go to a performing arts school. I think it’s so smart to nurture talent from a really young age, along with a curiosity for creative endeavors. And then, like you said, there’s the community. What’s your fantasy for the future?
I like to see the growth between when I started and now, and I look forward to seeing the growth between what I”m currently doing and two years from now. I want to do more with my body, my voice, and my platform, and see all that evolve. But also, there is so much things I can tackle in this life. In reality, I have so much time and so much energy that I can give to the world if I live long, and I hope I do. Right now I would like to go back to the community that I grew up in and help other young women like myself. I want to help people understand they can come from nothing—or even just an average place— and find their way to greatness.
I was talking to my friend about this the other day. Once you feel like you have “made it” to whatever degree that means, it is so important to give back and reinvest in your community.
Yeah, I agree. I feel like I invest in everything. Well, I haven’t invested in stocks.
I should. But I invest a lot in my friends and my family. My friends will be like, “Oh, I have an idea,” and I”m just like, “What do you need from me?” Because I believe that they can do it.
What has been great about DRØME expanding is it really feels like we’re collecting friends. So it keeps getting bigger and bigger, but at the same time it feels very small and close-knit, which is cool. And since it’s something annual, it does feel a little bit like a yearbook.
I know! Because the magazine is published once a year, it feels super special.
Yeah, and it’s always such a fun group of people! It’s really nice to have all kinds of artists, some more well-known and some less. It is hard in this day and age to figure out a balance. I find that a lot of my friends struggle with doing things for exposure, even if they’re not things they are particularly interested in. Just to get to a certain place or atmosphere, or their work will remain unknown.
That’s always the struggle, for anybody and everybody. With modeling, I think about if I should only stick to jobs that I care about, or that I feel are worth my time. I like to try everything, but then you also can’t say yes to everything, which is my problem—I always say yes to everything. [Laughs]
That is definitely a philosophy of life. It keeps experiences coming. I feel you. If you think about all the different directions you could go in with your life, what keeps you focused and grounded? What helps you recalibrate?
My core group of friends and family help keep me focused, grounded, and on the correct path. They really welcome everything that I’m doing. When I pick up new things or think about what I want for the future,
I think about not only what would make me proud, but what my support system would be proud supporting. Because a big thing on the Internet right now is talking about whether you are supporting good people. And for people making art: Are you supporting who they are as well as supporting what they do? So I always try to do things that are going to make my friends, family, and anyone else who supports me proud to continue to do that.
Definitely. Speak your truth. Do you.
Yeah, that’s a big thing, speaking your truth.
Really! It’s so hard. It’s hard sometimes when you realize that nobody else is doing what you’re doing, and to be okay with that.
And, for anybody who is in a position where people are looking to them for guidance and inspiration, it’s hard to understand yourself. When you have a lot of people trying to give their opinions on how you should understand yourself, too, that’s tough.
Photographer Lili Peper joins Salem and Satchel.
Where do you find inspiration, Lili?
I watch a lot of films. I’m really inspired by cinema.
Which films are your go-to references?
David Lynch’s films are always up there for me. I love surrealism, so Luis Bunuel’s films, too. Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek director, is my favorite contemporary filmmaker, I love him… Dario Argento, who did Suspiria in the ‘70s, has these great colors, so for colors I go to his films.
You’re a photographer, and clearly films are visually inspiring, but do plot and story ever inspire your work as well?
I’m fascinated by being able to tell an entire narrative with a single image. Drawing inspiration from films is less about camera movement and visual tricks, and more about putting a camera down and letting the scene kind of play out. And I notice how they load it, both with the actors’ performances but also props and set design, location and lighting, how all of these things affect the scene.
If you could give the audience something that they can really interact with, even just a photograph, you can give people enough that they can really—
Latch onto it.
I love using a lot of domestic signifiers in photography, and objects that link people to things. I love wide shots, too, because you see a door open, and you see a person sitting there, and you see a phone, and maybe the phone is off the hook. These are things you can identify, and identify with. You latch onto that, but then you start projecting all this subjective experience onto that image, so you are invited into the narrative as it is being told, and it’s not just spoon-fed to you. What happened the minute before this photo was taken, what happened a minute after, what’s happening in the next room right now while this photograph is being taken. You, as the audience, project all that onto it, and I think that is all you can ask for from an image. Another reason I get a lot of inspiration from films is that I think there’s a huge difference between films that let audiences be passive versus ones that all spectators to be active participants. And there are specific ways that films use tricks to create that, to force the audience into that. A really long shot, for example, is something a lot of people don’t have the patience for, so when a filmmaker uses that as a device, it makes the viewer more aware of what’s going on.
It makes you aware of yourself in the theater, it makes you aware of the person sitting next to you, because you’re stuck there with the shot, with the performance. There’s this film called A Ghost Story—have you seen that?
A Ghost Story?
It’s an art film by David Lowery about a woman who loses her husband really early on, and it’s basically a ghost story told from the ghost’s perspective. So for the film’s majority, the male lead in the film is under a sheet. He’s this personified ghost on camera. it’s so beautiful, it’s a very photographic film, and it’s risky. There is one scene where the female lead, played by Rooney Mara, comes back from identifying her husband’s body at the hospital, and she walks into her house and finds that somebody brought her a pie. She takes the pie and stares at it for a while. And then they cut, and she’s on the floor with it. The frame is completely still, in the same exact spot for eight minutes. And you are just watching this person in mourning. She eats the entire pie in one sitting—they do not cut the shot. And you are just there with her. The director said when he screened the film, a lot of people walked out. Audiences often can’t handle that level of longevity anymore in film, because they get too uncomfortable, or get bored.
I think also with a lot of art films, people just don’t expect stuff like that,
because some movies are the cinematic equivalent of fast food.
Well, you go to the cinema to forget everything else. You go and watch action films, you don’t have to think about anything. You’re kind of just a blob.
We shouldn’t even call it cinema. How did that scene make you feel, though?
Well you are on the floor with her for eight minutes while she is eating this pie, thinking, I can’t believe this. At the end of the scene, she runs into the bathroom and throws it up.
That’s so sad.
It is unbelievable. I get goose bumps just talking about it.
Did you cry?
No, I didn't cry. I saw the film with my friend Nick, and after we were just sitting outside, smoking a cigarette, contemplating the movie… And at the exact same time that I asked, “How amazing was that?” he asked, “How boring was that?” [Laughs] That’s just how it is.
We collaborated with some of our favourite designers who do not merely challenge, but dismantle the gender binary with their rebellious, honest, audacious looks.
Cheng Huai Chuang, Hardeman Wardements, Laurence & Chico Luar, Vasilis Loizides Maison the Faux, Private Policy
I’m not sure when or how it started. sometimes it’s like a slow ache in your neck or the prick of a needle into your skin. Before i had language for it, the pain was an anonymous symptom of everyday life. it’s there when you wake up and go to bed, it follows you down the street, it hovers by mirrors and closets. dysphoria is a tricky bastard that way.
At age nineteen I had a panic attack because I was wearing a skirt and had long hair. Something had clicked in my brain—this is all wrong. I didn’t know why. It just was. So I cut off the hair. Wore “men’s” clothing. Bought a binder. My transformation may not have altered the dysphoria, but it was dramatic enough to ease the discomfort. It let me breathe.
I like to imagine that my body is a flesh suit, one that doesn’t always fit. The artist Polly Nor has a series of illustrations depicting devils putting on skin suits, washing their skin suits, picking out a different body from their closet. When I saw them I thought, Yes, someone gets it. I am a trans-mutation and I am overwhelmed by the lack of body suits I have to choose from.
On Alika—Vasilis Loizides Double Green Dress, SYRO Golfo Plaid Boots, Laruicci Crystal with Gold Hoop Earring, On Cheeky—Vasilis Loizides Green Chaps, Green Chandelier Top and Chest Harness, SYRO Golfo Black Patent Boots
Presentation, then, is the next best thing. If fashion is an expression of the queer self, a signifier to others that I am here in a network of like-minded twinks and butches and zaddies, for non-binary and trans people it is that and a retaliation against dysphoria, a “fuck you” to everyone who says “I do not see you. You do not exist.” Passing or not, incognito or loud ‘n’ proud, trans people use clothing and style as a tool to survive, as a punctuation to their gender, and whatever a trans person wears, I guarantee you it is radical. People lose their lives for presenting as themselves.
I am the curator of my gender, the architect of my body, and the seamstress of this flesh suit. Fashion becomes not only an expression of the self, but the very skin we live and breathe in.
‘Dysphoria’— Max Van Cooper
Essay by Alok Vaid-Menon
There are no contradictions if you believe in art.
Art is less of a method (poet! sculptor! painter!) and more a mode of living. Art is in life-making, as in the living is the work as the street is the stage as in the body is the canvas. You understand? Art as the place we go when language fails; art as the dimension where things do not have to be real to matter.
The natural state of the world is one of harmony, simultaneity, balance. When we encounter tension between ideas, aesthetics, ways of being-this reveals a failure of the imagination. Imagination is where we go to see harmony where they see dissonance. The particulars aren’t the problem, it’s the paradigm! Sometimes I just want to hug everyone in the world struggling and whisper in their ear, IT’S NOT PERSONAL, IT’S THE PARADIGM!”
As artists - by which I mean as people trying to make a better world - we are tasked with the challenge: How do we transcend the paradigm?
There’s this myth in Western culture that performance is where we go to pretend to be something that we are not. At every level we are taught to dismiss the things that are fleeting, ephemeral, contrived. But being an artist is about making an argument for the ‘artificial,’ and - in other words - against the natural.
Performance is one of the only spaces where we can be honest anymore. Something about simulation creates a more perfect reality. Perhaps this is why we run to cinemas or theaters to cry in the darkness. Perhaps this is why we avidly consume memes: #RelatableContent. What is me, but a stylized fantasy?
There are many joys to the non binary experience but among them are a dismissal of the real. We are told that there are two genders, two sexes, two ways of being. We are told that this is “science,” no “religion,” no “state.” In other words: we are told that we do not exist. We are told that we are delusional, disordered, narcissistic. And so we are tasked with the burden of authenticity. We can say “I AM REAL!” but then we have to ask ourselves why our legitimacy is dependent on the very logics which disappear us to begin with.
So then sometimes we have the audacity to say: “NONE OF THIS IS REAL!” And there’s a type of freedom that comes from that, a potentiality. We can look at this body they assigned us and say, “This is not a _____, this is a _____.” And for once the template becomes more of an open playing field, a fill in the blank if you will. We can look at the world and say, “This is not a democracy, this is a ____!” We can look to the television screens say, “This is not happiness, this is ____!” We can go to the stage and say, “I am not ____, I am ____!”
I do this workshop every once in a while called FEELINGS! I think workshops are essential because they’re about figuring out how to become a better person - or rather - how to become a person. We teach each other things that our schools forgot to or maybe even didn’t want to: how to process jealousy, how to grieve death, how to name boundaries. Sometimes I ask participants to approach a white board and answer some questions. Sometimes I ask, “WHO ARE YOU?” Most of the time people don’t know what to say. I mean they say things but I’m unclear whether it’s them speaking or someone else. “I’m a…”. [insert template] [insert assigned identity] [insert hierarchy].
There are not contradictions, there are just failures of imagination. And so I keep on asking, who are you? And eventually the only answer is always ? The answer to the question is the question, isn’t it? I find the best answers are the ones that disarticulate the question to begin with: Are you a man or a woman? No.
Living in fantasy is about embracing the infinite potentiality of the question mark. It’s about a perpetual ambivalence to the real, a sincere and earnest skepticism of authenticity as a project, a recognition of the constructedness of everyone and everything. “Natural" just like “normal” is an intentional and deliberate act. “History” just like “man,” is a performance art scripted so seamlessly it assumes the position of authority.
I believe the reason non binary people experience so much wrath is because we make the world confront the myth of its own naturalness. We unsettle the very grammar that they use to name themselves. Rather than saying, “I don’t know who I am” they scream and they shout and they hurt so loud and so forcefully that they do not notice us saying,
YOU DON’T HAVE TO
YOU DON’T HAVE TO
Welcome to the fantasy.