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Traveling through "No-Time": A conversation with Prince Rama on the collective spirit, photo cakes and "Instagrammable" art

 Prince Rama, Top Ten Hits of the End of the World -Installation view, CULT Exhibitions,
San Francisco CA; photo by Shaun Roberts. Photos in collaboration with Samantha Casolari.

 
Prince Rama, How To Live Forever
CULT, Aimee Friberg Exhibitions, San Francisco, CA
January 24 - February 21st, 2015

By LEIGHANA WAIGHT, FEB. 2015 

From performing post-apocalyptic spiritual pop music, to delivering manifestos in pools of fake blood, Prince Rama, the artist collaboration of the Brooklyn based sister duo of Taraka and Nimai Larson, aim to create a hyper-utopian, timeless space, charged by Monster Energy and Mylar. Their most recent show "How To Live Forever," a solo exhibition presented at Aimee Friberg's CULT gallery in San Francisco, showcases several of their past shows, amongst them "Whitney Biennial 2067," originally a 24-hour pop up at The Whitney Museum. We met at a coffee shop in Brooklyn to discuss the inspiration behind their show at CULT and their vision of the future of Contemporary Art.

Leighana Waight: Let's talk about your current solo exhibition "How to Live Forever" at Aimee Friberg's CULT Gallery in SF. It is sort of a retrospective of past installations, right?

Taraka Larson: Yeah, I guess so, which is kind of weird. It's a retrospective of a few shows that we've done over the years. One of them was at The Whitney Museum; we did this sort of fake "Whitney Biennial 2067." It was a pop up installation that lasted 24 hours on the second floor of The Whitney Museum, which we had all of these pieces from fake artists we made up. The whole back room of the gallery was all pieces from an installation we did at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art.

LW: Was that the one with the hot tubs?

TL: Exactly, and it took place this exact time last year. Memories! TBT!

LW: Also included in your current show is the "Happy Birthday CULT" exhibit, featuring 9 birthday cakes commemorating Cult gallery's 9 different exhibitions in their first year.

TL: Yes right, that was a new piece. It was also sort of a meta-retrospective of CULT gallery because it was their one-year anniversary. We always like to do something site specific to the place. So, Aimee the director of CULT, was having her one-year anniversary, and we thought, "Let's have a birthday party!" Like, what better temporary, autonomous-zone, Utopia, to represent the gallery than a birthday party, this thing that exists without any specific place. Just a space where people get together and celebrate, and it disperses, and all that's left are cake crumbs.


Prince Rama, How To Live Forever- Installation view, CULT Exhibitions, San Francisco CA; photo by Shaun Roberts

Nimai Larson: And honestly, everyone walked away with a smile on their face. I mean it's cake, how can you be mad or feel like you don't understand cake?

LW: You are definitely lovers of cake and edible art, with prior shows such as "Cake Basel" at Art Basel Miami in 2012, and "DJ Pizza Records" at the opening of Marlborough Gallery's downtown location. Is this a play on the nature of consumption and commodification in the art world, or addressing the nature of consumerism?

TL: I mean, you know, we are not very serious people, and so, by doing these things, a lot of people have serious political things to say on the nature of art consumption. But for us, it's just like, let's just have fun with this. 

NL: Well, honestly, what I was thinking about with the cakes and thinking about just food in general in the art world, was not a commentary or as having some rich political idea. To me, I really like to make art that does not feel exclusive. I know that so many times I've gone into art galleries or into museums or talked to artists and feel like the butt end of a joke. Or, "Why don't I understand, why can't I connect with what the artist is feeling?" And even though maybe some people did not understand why we had these printed on photo cakes, they still walked away with a piece of cake, you know what I mean? They got to eat it, everyone was a part of that piece, and that piece couldn't have existed without everyone. Taraka and I just want to provide a platform for art to come to fruition, and a balance where one cannot exist without the other. That is how I feel about the cake, and even the pizza thing that we did-we weren't really trying to be super smart about that. It wasn't something we wanted to hold above everyone's head. It was just fun.

LW: It definitely makes the experience between the art and observer more interactive, and at the very least delicious.

NL: Totally, and another thing about The Whitney Biennial 2067 and the banners from that at the CULT gallery, we chose Monster Energy drink to represent the Whitney Biennial 2067. People were like "We don't get it, like, are you sponsored by them?," like, "Why Monster?" We are not sponsored by them, we feel like we sponsor Monster. We have complete creative control over how much Monster we consume, we have complete creative control of how we represent them, and we chose that brand because of our vision of the future. Right now in sports arenas, there are all of these advertisements because sports need backing, funding, for what they are doing. We feel like down the line, all art is progressively losing funding and its gong to need backing. You know, it's going to be like "This Picasso, brought to you by Charmin Toilet Paper". We were seeing this Whitney Biennial, 2067, set in the way distant future, brought to you by Monster Energy. Here again, it's not a political belief that we have particularly about Monster Energy, it's that this is a brand that we see in the future being part of lending its hand to art. It has nothing to do with it right now, but like for instance, Bank of America or Nissan do not have anything specifically to do with The Super Bowl, but you saw those Nissan ads for the Super Bowl, they were everywhere. All of the huge corporations are getting their hands in these other things.

TL: I think it is already happening, but the way it's being done right now is a little insidious, very subtle. You know, like, "Free Fridays at the MoMA, brought to you by Target."  It is seen as this form of low art in that way, to have that stuff so branded, but why not embrace this, instead of looking at it in this critical light. We do not see the difference between art and commerce and we play off of it a lot. Its, like, being sponsored by something doesn't have to be this dirty thing, it can be a performative endeavor.

LW: Perhaps it also opens up the community to different experiences and perspectives. Someone who wouldn't necessarily go to a museum has access to art through different means.

Aimee Friberg with audience (left) & Taraka Larsen of Prince Rama (right) prepares for live set at CULT Exhibitions
One Year Anniversary Party on January 24, 2015, Photo by Tomo Saito

TL: Totally, and that was our other reason why we chose to sponsor Monster, because the demographic for Monster is not classically the demographic that goes to art museums. I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule, but after doing some research and actually reaching out to Monster to see if they wanted to sponsor the Whitney Biennial 2067, they just wrote back with one line- "What is The Whitney?" So they are not interested in this world at all, especially with their target audiences. They are not trying to bridge any gaps. Redbull, on the other hand, is totally into bridging gaps, which is why Monster is more exciting to us. Monster is this two dimensional representative of "low" art culture, and I put that totally in quotation marks because that is not my branding for it but it seems to be what they've chosen as their target audience. For us, by choosing Monster, it is like democratizing the whole art world and making it into this realm where anyone who is drinking a Monster could be sponsoring the Whitney Biennial. By drinking that, it is almost like this communion wine, becoming part of the body and blood of the museum, extending this corpus mundi out beyond the white walled skeleton.

LW: I remember seeing you guys in your Monster energy jumpsuits, I was wondering what was going on there… good to clarify that you guys are actually sponsoring Monster and not the other way around.

NL: Yeah, it is getting back to political beliefs in art and how we don't really have them- for every person that is like "Wow, you are sponsored by Monster, cool!" there are that many people saying "You know they are anti-gay, Christian bigots." There are so many people who are very political and take things seriously and actually think that we are, but we really just have the biggest sense of humor about it. We are not trying to make any statements, really.

TL: I mean, by not making statements it is making a statement. I think that people are always looking for a political stance, but for us, it's something more of a spiritual relationship. We are all totally about the Monster conspiracy theories, like the "666, number of the beast…," you drink it, the cross goes upside down. We were interested in Monster Energy Drink because it had this underlying, otherworldly quality to it that is just so mundane. You see it everywhere. I feel it's the way advertising creates this symbolic recognition that basically consumes whatever space it is in. When you see that on the front of a bodega, it just consumes the energy of that place. It's almost like we live in this weird, trans-substantiated world, where we are consuming in this insidious way. It is an energy thing; it's not a commercial thing. I mean people get Monster tattoos. I think more than any other brand, people are taking it upon themselves to identify with that image. And, so, for us to be voluntarily co-opting that, and then turning it upside down, and have it represent something like The Whitney Museum, for us that is a powerful statement in taking this thing that is seen as this beast and saying this is actually art, this is actually like putting a context to things, more so than anyone can ever imagine. It is creating this place where anything that someone does that is wearing this Monster energy logo, or any logo, is given a context for their actions. The same way that the Whitney Biennial creates a context for art to be there, Monster creates this context for...

Nimai Larson of Prince Rama at CULT Exhibitions One Year Anniversary Party on January 24, 2015; Photo by Tomo Saito


LW: Like, extremism?

TL:  Extremism, yeah. Why can't art be extreme too? It's this back door way of seeing art everywhere. By drinking this drink, and I mean we actually drink Monster too, totally un-ironically, because I love it, it feels super great. By drinking it, this alchemical process happens, and I guess with the cakes too. I'm really interested in taking something that is seen as shit and then like turning it into gold. We are taking this beast energy and playing shows and trying to share spiritual music. It has helped us tap into those beast places that you are scared to go to, in day-to day life. By going there and being able to come back, and bringing something back like a song, from that journey, you know? I feel really blessed to be able to do that.

NL: Monster is beautiful.

LW: I saw a picture of you two on Facebook holding gossip magazines, again using pop culture as a portal to your perspective. It bridges gaps. Its like using pop culture and these symbols such as a Monster logo as a vehicle to discover different aesthetics or turning "kitsch to sublime."

TL: Yeah, bingo!

NL: I don't think we see gaps; it's this one continuous thing.

In Valis, that book by Philip K. Dick, which "The Empire Never Ended" exhibition was based on at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, the protagonist has this vision that came to him by this pink beam of light in the sky, a vision of Ancient Rome being projected onto Southern California in a hologram, which, I mean, sounds like heaven on Earth! Honestly. We called our part of the installation "Neon- Classical." We used a pink L wire and we got these huge tarps of Apollo and inside his temple these huge posters of Kim Kardashian, and, jacuzzis and motorcycles- all of these elements taken from both California and Ancient Rome. A couple of months later we had flown out to the West Coast on tour and visited the Hearst castle and I think it hit both of us that the Hearst castle to me was just like "The Empire Never Ended." It is so completely Southern California and at the same time Ancient Rome. It was really a mind-boggling experience for both of us.

TL: There is so much of that in Southern California too, like the sort of aesthetic that the Hearst castle spawned, even just down to these weird fiberglass Roman columns in front of some casino or cabaret, it's these ways that these holograms of Ancient Rome calcify onto Southern California. It is being calcified into these cheap, cheesy, kitsch materials.

From left: Nimai Larson, Kate Stern, Aimee Friberg, Laura Brunow Miner and Taraka Larson; Photo by Tomo Saito

N: But it's so beautiful!

TL: Like the Versace logo of Medusa or we even found this image of Kim Kardashian dressed as Helen of Troy.

NL: I mean, she just looks like the most amazing, radiant goddess, really.

TL: And, I mean she is completely constructed. The surgical process involves cheap materials, like silicone, and there is also this element of her that is a self-made sculpture, not super unlike these sculptures of gods made out of marble.  That room was fun for us to work with.

NL: We are serious about what we do but I think it is really important for us to have a sense of humor about ourselves.

TL: Yeah, I mean Nietszche had a great quote that I am going to totally butcher, but it was something like, "The only truth to be trusted is one that is followed by a laugh." I feel that was the theme of our whole installation. If someone was to ask, "Well, how do you know if something is done?" It's like, "Well, because we burst out laughing afterwards." Like when we hung this sort of black light over Kim Kardashian we were like "Where should we put it?" And we were trying out different spots on her, and all of a sudden we got this sort of cock-eyed angle over one of her eyes and we all just burst out laughing. And we were like "Alright, that's it!" It was like that for everything, it wasn't done until we were all laughing.

NL: Another cool thing about it is we are very serious about what we do, like we had to get the 9 photo cakes for CULT, but if you listened to us on the phone, it was hilarious. We were like "…we asked for hazelnut on the inside, NOT red velvet!"  We are serious about what we are doing but it's important for us to not take ourselves too seriously because otherwise it's not fun anymore, and we want to have fun with what we are doing.

The crowd gathers at the opening at CULT in San Francisco. Photo by Tomo Saito

Taraka Larson of Prince Rama during live set at CULT Exhibitions One Year Anniversary Party on January 24, 2015; Photo by Tomo Saito
 

TL: I think there is definitely something, and I can only speak for myself, but I feel like there is something lost for me when there is this sort of forcible over thinking of art, where it's like, "Oh no, it may seem fun but it's actually about this." And I love conceptual art, but there is something so intrinsic to the comprehension of things when you are able to laugh at them. And when that is lost, I feel there is a certain understanding that is not happening. There is something about art, in pop music for instance, that forces you to shut down your critical facets, like the song that you dance to when you are 12 years old, you know? Or it's your first crush; you are not intellectualizing that at all. There is this sort of intuitive understanding that can be mutually exclusive to intellectual understanding. Sometimes they can be married, and that's great. But I feel most times the intellectual understanding comes at the cost of the intuitive understanding.

LW: Also with the 9 cake pieces at CULT, it is my understanding that collectors purchased the 9 cakes prior to the exhibition opening. As opposed to a collector or institution possessing these pieces, they purchased them and shared with everyone that attended, sort of creating a space for everyone to belong in.

TL: That is what Utopia is all about. I am not saying we are achieving that with our art, but it is our life's strive.

LW: What is it about kitsch that has the potential to be turned into the sublime?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CULT (Miguel Arzabe Cake), 2015; Photo by Tomo Saito, courtesy of CULT | Aimee Friberg Exhibitions
 

TL: Well I think you answered that completely with saying it is like seeing pop as a vehicle. It has an outer, shiny shell that is a portal to this sublime space. But that sublime space is protected by kitsch. It's like this really nice, shiny, distracting, protective envelope, because you are so busy being like "OOOO", or like "What?! Nooo wayyyy" or whatever strong reaction you have. That is the outer shell that protects this inner thing.

LW: Kind of making the image of Kim Kardashian or a pop culture mag this sacred artifact, coming from this post-apocalyptic milieu. This concept of timelessness is very much in tune with your manifesto, "The Now Age," like "Everything of old is also new..."

TL:  Right, and  "…everything that is new is old.

NL: The only room left from our CULT show is the karaoke room. It was in the smaller room in the middle, and it is a clip from our movie "Never Forever" and the song "Those Who Live For Love Will Live Forever" but it was slowed waaaaayyy doooowwwn.

TL: Yeah we just chopped and screwed the song and put it on this infinite loop. 

NL: Right, and with the karaoke aspect of it, with the microphone, you are watching this little clip of the movie in slow motion and the words are coming out really slowly, and when you sing through the microphone we had it running through an octave pedal, so you "soooooouuuuunnnnnddd llliikkkkeee thiiiiisssss." After the opening I was just in there talking and laughing to myself and I could not stop!  I feel like that piece man, if anyone wants to laugh for the rest of their lives, they should really buy that piece. If anyone is having a hard time, buy that piece.

LW: How do you go about that as well, with large installation pieces and people wanting to purchase them, how do you sell that?

TL: I don't know, but we are going to find out!

Prince Rama, How To Live Forever (Video Karaoke) - Installation view, CULT Exhibitions, San Francisco CA; photo by Shaun Roberts. Video In collaboration with Lily Wahrman / Astral Projects.

NL: What we talked to Aimee about was also selling the huge walls of Mylar in the front room, that we staple gunned to the wall, and we are willing to sell that too. The thing is that part of the price of buying it means Taraka and I fly out to San Francisco and we install it in your home. I think it is mostly about selling the installation by "How do you feel when you walk into this room." It's a feeling; it's not necessarily calculating where exactly we are putting the staple gun. It's when you walk into both of those rooms you are hit with a feeling. Like the feeling when you are looking up at a 16-foot high floor to ceiling Mylar, it's a feeling. It's amazing. Mylar is such a magical medium to work in. It's like looking at yourself in a fun house, all the time.

TL: It's like the ultimate selfie room.

NL: That's the other thing too- Taraka and I realize, something that is really, really, important, is making "Instagrammable" art. Art that will photograph well and that people will want to share with their friends. Since we realized that about our own art, we've been trying to exhibit at and also take in Art Basel. When you go into Untitled or into any of the fairs, the booths that have the most people packed into them are the booths that have the art that is super "Instagrammable." People are taking selfies in them, it's a bonding experience.

TL: Instagram becomes the walls of a gallery, which is what I am interested in too. It's like, whereas not everyone was able to come to this exhibit, you are able to talk about it like you were there because you saw things on Instagram. And that is important, to be able to visually communicate that and extend those walls. When you hold that in your hand and you are looking through your feed, for a second, you are a part of that world. It's not owned by anyone. Also, social media and going back to the title "How to Live Forever," it's this weird sort of virtual non space that is sort of there and not at this exact time but it's anytime you pull it up, it has this eternal life quality to it. Once you post something, who knows how long it takes for people to find it. It's like a virtual artifact, you are basically burying a fossil, and who knows for how long. You don't know how long it's going to be there. It's on "No-Time."

Prince Rama, Neon Classical, California- Installation view (detail), CULT Exhibitions, San Francisco CA; photo by Shaun Roberts

NL: An example of how the internet is on "No-Time"- we had all of our gear stolen in 2009, and we made this post on Myspace, back when Myspace was a thing, being like "hey, we just had everything stolen, we are in this town in PA, we are not going to be able to finish our tour, guys we have to go to Europe in two weeks, if anyone has money, even a dollar, or old gear, keyboards, drums, anything, please reach out." We got everything back and people were coming out of the woodwork donating money and everything, it was so amazing. Anyway, four or five years later, out of no where, some dude is like "Hey, oh my god, I just heard you got all of your stuff stolen, I've got a super nice metal Ibanez guitar, dude I've got this extra guitar, I'll bring it to your show."

It was a great example of the "No-Time" of social media. For him it was immediate, he had this immediate reaction, as soon as he saw that he was like "let me help." For us, it happened forever ago, for him it was like- "I am here now with my solution to your problem." The Internet is so wild. And to us, because it is so new, and social media and everything is still at the forefront of everyone's minds, I kind of feel like we are kind of trying to navigate the wild, wild, west of promoting ourselves. It’s like the wild, wild, west of how to present ourselves.

TL: Or just how to create.

NL:  Yeah, creating, really. But it's exciting, I think there's a lot of negativity that comes with it, granted, but I feel we are trying to navigate that world and everything else we do, it is a part of our art. Like an Instagram of us reading trashy gossip magazines, it's a part of it.

TL: It's a part of the "Now Age." I think if we were to be critical of this one particular facet of this giant prism, being like "I don't like that one, we should cover that one up" it's like, no, for a prism to work, it has to be all of the sides, and every side reflects the other. Just looking at it holistically, not necessarily from someone's perspective from 2015, or from someone's perspective from 2067 but maybe someone from 2500 B.C. or someone 4500 A.D.: time is sculptural too. It's figuring out how to work with that.

It's that collective spirit, like talking about cakes, karaoke, Instagram, or going to an art museum, that is a part of the spirit. It's actually what is helping us live forever. That spirit will live on after our bodies are gone. Any way you can take part in a small place like that, I mean that's really how to live forever. WM

Prince Rama, How To Live Forever- Installation view, CULT Exhibitions, San Francisco CA; photo by Shaun Roberts

 

  

Leighana Waight

 

Leighana Waight is a writer, independent curator and publisher of OF THE zine. She lives and works in New York City.

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