Blackbear: an interview

Ahead of his latest album release, I talk to hit-making sensation Blackbear on his first Father’s Day, a future collaboration with Elton John and his feelings behind making “everything means nothing”.

As we’re all aware of now, 2020 has been a year of many grievances, brutal truths and realisations. Amidst this, people are looking everywhere for positivity and light, whether through memes about our current climate, seeing how our favourite celebrities are coping despite living in mansions the size of an island, and so much more. For Matthew Tyler Musto, otherwise known as ‘blackbear’, it’s been about satirising the seemingly shallow aspects of our concerns and educating ourselves on the significant ones, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. As well as this, blackbear has spent 2020 navigating newfound fatherhood and creating new music for his upcoming album “everything means nothing”—all lowercase, exactly like his name.

His summer defining bop ‘hot girl bummer’ has over a billion streams on Spotify alone, and he’s collaborated with Justin Bieber, Machine Gun Kelly, Linkin Park, G-Easy and Ellie Goulding. Yet, blackbear is an individual who still, as the kids say, “slept on”. The self-made music prodigy has a loyal fanbase and is making waves nonetheless, with Elton John even giving him a call as of recent. So with this in mind, I gave Matthew a ring, and we chatted about all things quarantine, changes and our favourite quotes.

How do you like to be referred to as in your day to day name wise?
People call me Matt or Matthew. Sometimes my therapist calls me ‘Bear’, I do not know why. Think he is trying to be all supportive like, “Come on Bear, you got this!” as if he’s cheering me on [laughs]. You can call me Matt, that is totally fine!

So, the story behind the name Blackbear, I heard multiple stories. From gangs being in relation to an addiction to Haribo gummy bears, but I need full confirmation.
Yeah, I had to go to rehab and the whole thing because I could not stop. Now we cannot have them in the house, every time I think about gummy bears or even see a gummy WORM, it is a gateway drug for me. No, I’m just being cheeky [laughs]. I like to see how far I can fucking take things to the point where it’s not even funny anymore [laughs]. When I was a child, I thought that God was this black teddy bear in the sky that you could just cuddle with. I came to find out slowly and later in life that this could both be true and not be true. You cannot tell me whether that is real or not, but it was one of my first true beliefs. So, I just named myself Blackbear because it was one of first creative thoughts.

Father’s Day has just passed, how did you celebrate?
Father’s Day was surreal for me. It was just one of the most beautiful, normal days for a normal guy that anyone can experience. I don’t want to take away the experience from anybody, but you just have to experience it, it’s just unexplainable. Just so amazing. It’s like…I’m someone’s DAD. That is the coolest part, this weird guy that you’re talking to right now is a parent of someone. It’s so strange, like we’ve gotten in the car before and my song was playing on the radio. That’s definitely a lifelong achievement for me, I just think that it’s just such a big flex, like, “Look how hard daddy worked!”, you know? I don’t know whether he’ll remember it, but maybe I’ll have songs in the future that will play on the radio.

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Photo by Sam Dameshek

What was the meaning behind the name Midnight for your son?
It just means new day, 12 o’clock. Fresh start, it’s a new chapter. So that’s what Midnight is for me in my life. He’s already smart in some way, he already has such a personality and is already his own person at 5 months old, it’s just so strange because he’s this little person that we made together.

How has becoming a father affected your creative process?
Oh! Good question. If it’s done anything relatively massive in my life…it’s made me more keen to the idea that I have to provide for someone. I need to make music that people are going to resonate with and really relate to, and really love, and keep me touring. I need to keep working so that I can support my family and I think that overarching idea has set in. I made Hot Girl Bummer as soon as I found out Michele (girlfriend) was pregnant. So, I thought, I need to step this up into high gear. No more fun and games.

How has quarantine changed the way you have seen life given recent events?
That was well put. Amazing. That was amazing. Is this my interview or yours? [laughs]. As soon as the death of George Floyd hit the news and started becoming such a massive thing, I will admit that THAT was the moment for me and a lot of other White people, like, that was our changing moment where we were like, you know what? I am going to post about Black Lives Matter, I’m going to make a pledge, I’m going to bring my child up the correct way, buy the books on Amazon and I’m going to teach him about racism, about these things. All I can say is that we are the teachers of the next generation. When I look at Midnight I see opportunity and I see change.

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Photo by Sam Dameshek

Have you been getting creative this time? Hot Girl Bummer part 2, 2020 edition? Or another summer-defining anthem?
So…you’re asking whether I’d make another satire record that pokes fun at our times? I just see it as this, I have a platform to say what maybe everyone is thinking but nobody is saying, thinking or even feeling. I know that the reason Hot Girl Bummer took off was because people really related to it. I stood in the club before and wandered why I was spending so much on a drink, on a table and why is it so important that I wear my fake diamond necklace when I’m going to be in the dark? It’s just all of these ridiculous little things that we do that I’m guilty of as well and so, the title was definitely more of a satirical take on our culture. We are generally getting into a time where it’s harder to not fuck up and not say something wrong and whatever it is as long as your intentions are right. I’m not worried about making someone angry because yes, I am sensitive to the way people feel today but at the same time it’s kind of my own therapy.

You’ve worked with a lot of accomplished artists- do you prefer the song writing process and working behind the scenes or releasing your own?
I enjoy making music for other people, especially when Justin Bieber or Linkin Park or somebody who is totally different from Blackbear. Like, Blackbear would never come out with a Linkin Park song! Mainly that is what I get out of writing for other people, I like to read the vibe of a room and get something out of them.

Speaking of which, you said in another interview that when you’re not creating Blackbear songs you’re writing songs of your own- is there a particular artist who you really want to write songs for? Dead or alive.
I actually recently spoke to Elton John, I know- it’s so insane. He called me on the phone and said that in the future that we have to work on something. That’s definitely something that we’ve been talking about.

A lot of your fans were heavily anticipating your new Queen of Broken Hearts EP which is now going to be a full-blown album! How come you are splitting the release dates?
So that it will be more digestible. I just want people to spend time with the songs. It’s kind of like eating a sandwich!

Having looked at the track list I noticed your album features LAUV and Trevor Daniel who I actually interviewed this past month. What made you decide that those were the artists to best collaborate with?
It was not the matter of these being the artists that I wanted to collaborate with, as much as it was the case of working on a song and just HEARING Trevor Daniel on this song. With if I were you, I thought that this sounded like the perfect LAUV song. I just had to ask Ari (LAUV) if he will do this. They are also just my good mates, they’re just great friends. It’s just really cool to take the opportunity for my friends to be on. We all sing about the same topics.

Your social media is typically littered in quotes, what would you say is your one mantra in life? A quote you like the most?
The last quote I posted was in my own words, it said “If you don’t learn from the past you will live there”. I love quotes, and in this album, I want people to feel…I think, I want people to feel validated in their individuality. I want people to feel empowered, I really want them to feel like they can be who they really are. Sorry, that is so deep.

Last question. What quote do you swear that you live by?
Live. Laugh. Love. [Laughs]. Okay, I love you.

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STREAM ‘EVERYTHING MEANS NOTHING’ ON ALL PLATFORMS.

Unity Over Comfort: Thoughts on the Black Lives Matter Movement

“Things are not getting worse. They are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight as we continue to pull back the veil”. – Adrienne Maree Brown

One of the 35th President’s of the United States, John F. Kennedy, main sayings was based upon an interpretation of Dante Alighieri’s poem titled Inferno. As his brother Robert F. Kennedy explained in 1964, “President Kennedy’s favourite quote was really from Dante, “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality”.

Within the last couple of weeks, we have seen a drastic spike in the global conscious awareness of police brutality, systemic and institutional oppression, White privilege and most importantly, racism. The mobilisation of the Black Lives Matter movement has never spread so effectively, nor has the conversation been so widely discussed amongst the general public. For the first time in centuries, the dialogue surrounding these topics are being highly mobilised to the point where Juneteenth is being considered to be a national holiday, new laws have been created and named after police brutality victims, countless artists have released songs to raise awareness and so, now what?

We’ve done our stories, posted the black squares and Martin Luther King quotes, but this movement isn’t just some trend. Black lives exist and matter outside of hashtags. We are here now, but who will stay till the end? When the hashtags no longer trend and the hype subsides, will you still be as outraged and demonstrate a willingness to learn? Will we continue to be anti-racist in a society that has spent centuries becoming accustomed to being so?

As someone who has more or less always been aware of police brutality in America (I even wrote a blog post about it in 2016) alongside the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement following the senseless killing of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, I was outraged as well as felt an extreme sense of hopelessness. I had seen Floyd’s death without watching it, I watched it countless times before, with the deaths of others, too many to name. I was struck by the similarity of Floyd’s death and Eric Garner’s before him, both uttering the same breathless last words, “I can’t breathe”.

I have a Black younger brother, and my fear for him grows with each birthday. I have been reporting on the link between structural racism and toxic stress and the high rates of death for Black mothers and children for three years. I’ve been truly devastated by the reports about how many Black people are dying from COVID-19 as well as police brutality.

With this sudden awareness of continuous injustice towards BIPOC within ALL areas of life, from medical racism, whitewashed history, down to the wedding industry, it’s almost frightening to see how complacent and blissfully unaware (predominately) White people have been towards these problems. This is far more than just “Some guy getting shot” and other racist arguments that tend to get put forward, this is about unveiling many underlining issues within society. But in order to be a real ally that advocates for change, there are a few things that need to be understood.

First of all, as mentioned, this is merely the surface. Be prepared to feel the tiredness, dread, and a lack of hope at a system that takes one step forward and five steps back. There will be more names and it will shock you how quickly more bodies are added to the pile and how corrupt officials will behave. You will grow weary and your souls will tire from what seems like never-ending travesties and exploitation. I want to ask if you are ready. Ready to have continuous uncomfortable conversations with co-workers, with family members, and with friends.Irish-Nigerian writer and PhD researcher Emma Dabiri made a very informative thread on her Instagram titled “Notes on Allyship and Coalition“, specifically catered to those with White and White-passing privilege in order to help ensure that the anti-racist momentum continues beyond quarantine. I’m going to take sections of that thread, re-write some of it and post them below. But please do continue to do your own research as there are plenty of resources out there for you to educate yourself on the issue

STOP DENYING THE EXISTENCE OF RACISM.

A lot of people do this. Not only do they deny racism in modern day society altogether, but they also deny that any form of racism exists within them by vehemently refusing to accept that the world has forced us to see race through a certain lens of supremacy for centuries that no one is immune to. White supremacy isn’t an abstract concept coined by the Left in an ever-evolving society, nor is it a political issue that we must ‘sympathise’ with. It is a very much real yet damaging humanitarian issue that we must interrogate and dismantle immediately. It’s a privilege in itself to learn about these experiences rather than having to go through them yourself. 

SPEAK OUT WHEN YOU HEAR RACISM. CHALLENGE IT.

This might be difficult because a lot of these racist “jokes” are used an excuse to project offensive and outdated stereotypes that most people feel like they have outgrown. Unless you’re a Ben Shapiro listener or you still watch Filthy Frank. Either way, it’s 2020 and even KSI doesn’t let his fans use racial slurs anymore. I’m just referencing controversial YouTubers now. Bottom line, don’t place the burden on Black and ethnic minorities alike to call out racism. It’s selfish and extremely draining, this is just as much YOUR responsibility as it is theirs. 

ABANDON WHITE GUILT.

YOU ARE NOT PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT YOUR ANCESTORS DID. WE KNOW THAT, OBVIOUSLY. Okay, glad we got that out of the way. However, you are responsible for what YOU and your White counterparts do from this point onward. You are responsible for uncritically accepting all of the advantages accrued to you by virtue of their wealth acquisition, land ownership etc. Oh yeah, and the entire creation story that justifies it. In conclusion, KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT! Keep signing petitions, spreading awareness, contacting local MP’s, staying informed, listening to Black academics/authors/people and understand their experiences, watch documentaries, utilise resources and remain educated. We’ve got this.

BLACK LIVES MATTER.

How a global pandemic affected my mental health

Calm in Chaos: a general rambling post from me amongst the uncertain times which are COVID-19 and how I generally stay sane when it feels like the world is ending.

As I’m writing this, I can hear at least three different species of birds chirping, couples laughing and friends gathered together basking the glory of the sudden sunshine. Despite this, the context shows an entirely different tone. It’s March of 2020 and the world is in an incredibly strange state right now, just two nights ago Boris Johnson had announced that the United Kingdom was officially going into lockdown for the next couple of months, which basically means that everyone needs to self-isolate and remain in quarantine apart from “essential” workers. Understandably, everyone is freaking the fuck out. With thousands of events getting cancelled like weddings, holidays, festivals and even educational institutions having to shut which means exams have been cancelled for the time being and teaching has been transferred online. Right now, we really are living in the midst of a historic moment which will affect millions of people across the world. A real dystopian Black Mirror episode, if you will.

Despite this, this is the happiest I have felt in months. I know, I’m not making the best impression so far. I’m sat in a large nature park right now where other people are when I’m meant to be isolating (Sorry, dad) and I just said that a massive pandemic is making me happy. Well, allow me to justify. I use the term “happy” very loosely here. I know 2020 has been shit show from the get go; from shock deaths (RIP Kobe and Brianna Bryant), floods, wildfires, potential world wars, nation-wide drought, Brexit (which commenced on my birthday for fuck sake), climate change acceleration and now an international pandemic. And it’s ONLY March. I can understand why you’d read my naïve indifference as arrogant.

It feels like everywhere you turn, there’s bad news after bad news. Like, not to be dramatic, but life is feeling a lot like that time Edward broke up with Bella in Twilight and Stephenie Meyer made all the chapters during the break up empty pages with just “September.” “October.” “November.” written at the top. All of the days are blurring into one and are filled with uncertainty. Every social media platform that you log into, including Instagram which is usually a form of escapism, are only constant reminders of the virus as well as productive things we’re meant to be doing throughout this period of isolation, even though I’m fully aware that I’m meant to be chasing a degree (I know, what the fuck) while constant stats remind us about how deadly and scary this virus is. It truly is overwhelming and I do not blame anybody for feeling especially scared and anxious in this time.

I rarely get personal on this blog, despite the fact that it IS my personal blog. I’m usually quite general, but I’m going to share how I’ve personally felt the calm in all of this. I mean, I speak from a place of general privilege. I’m not exactly calm about the death, collective grief, global poverty, deadly exploitation of working-class people of colour, financial ruin and ever-callous leadership that sets the scene for this time. Furthermore, circumstances for a lot of people are desperate and financially there’s bound to be some kind of crash, I understand that this is a scary time for us all. Yet, for some reason, I find the collective feeling of worry, the resentment of this current year, holding billionaires and the 1% to account for their greedy money hoarding as well as everybody’s combined efforts in improving our circumstances to be extremely reassuring of humanity. Even the NHS has had over 400,000 people offer to volunteer to help those directly infected by the virus when the government were merely expecting half of that. That’s something to celebrate within itself.

Overall, my person issues pale in comparison to refugees and more vulnerable groups who are far a lot affected by this this virus than me personally. This isn’t ideal for anybody. However, if I’m too think in a way that makes the glass appear half full- I’d talk about the environmental impacts, for example; did you know that air quality has improved significantly in major cities since tourists have stopped occupying them? And think of all the free concerts all of your favourite artists have intimately live-streaming!! From Chris Martin of Coldplay, John Legend, James Blake. Miley Cyrus has started a cute livestream platform where she interviews celebrities and medical professionals on remaining positive while being aware of your surroundings. The sheer quality of MEMES that have come out of this are…incredible. And lastly, the newfound respect the general public now have for service workers and our community.

Apologies if this blog post seems lazy compared to my usual work, I’m still adjusting. I know this is hard, I’m scared too. I’ll probably add more positive outcomes and more informed updates of this in due time. But for now, I know it’s easier said than done- but do try to make the most of this time of peace and quiet. Get creative, contact people you’ve grown distant from due to busy schedules. Whatever you want. There’s bound to be some form of humanity to come out of this and it’ll be beautiful. We can’t see it now but we will. There’s no telling what’s ahead but I do truly believe that in spite of everything, we’ve got this. Look after yourself reader.

Has Black Feminism actually progressed in film?

Is Black female representation as presented in film just a trend?
Originally posted on The National Student.

Hollywood has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years. Just last year we were finally exposed to the “open secret” of Harvey Weinstein, prompting the beginning of the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns, which challenged the status quo of the industry as a whole. And Hollywood hasn’t just been criticised its treatment and representation of women. In 2015 and 2016, the Academy Awards in particular were called out for being overwhelmingly white.

Despite the recent success of Black women on screen and the progressive message that their performances are depicting, many fear that the “Black girl magic” and the empowerment of marginalised voices is nothing more than a marketing tool for ‘woke points’. But being woke is more than being a political young person, it’s more than a hashtag, and way more than a trend.

While some might have feigned surprise that the 2016 Oscars were #SoWhite, anyone with an insight into the industry could have foreseen it. From whitewashing to nepotism, and the promotion of stereotypes, it’s about time that we as a society have a conversation about films, feminism, and race.

Across all aspects of life, society indicates that women are second-rate citizens, people who need to be dominated, and are incapable of succeeding in the ways men can. This is a belief especially damaging towards women of colour, who face discrimination due to their race too. Finally, especially within in the last few years, the presence of melanated heroines on our screens has been at an all time high. Particularly worth mentioning are Hidden Figures, Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time.

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A Wrinkle In Time, 2018

In 2015, there were no people of colour nominated for an Oscar in acting. None. In 2016, once again, there were absolutely no people of colour nominated for an Oscar in acting. Suddenly in 2017, there were six. Among the films to tackle issues of race and to garner the Academy’s attention were Loving, Fences, The People v. O.J. Simpson, I Am Not Your Negro, Moonlight, and 13th.

With her documentary 13th, Ava DuVernay calls out the racist history behind America’s penal system and challenges perceptions about the War on Drugs. She has dared to reclaim history, and ended up making it as a result. Even though DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time didn’t excel in the box office nor did it do well amongst critics, the film itself is a game-changer.

And that is not only because it is a landmark achievement for inclusive science fiction and fantasy (SFF) films, but also in the way that it shows Black girls a young hero who looks like them. A Wrinkle in Time is an open love letter to Black girls, and addresses the uncertainties of girlhood, especially for girls of colour.

Hidden Figures, the 20th Century Fox film telling the long-forgotten story of the African-American women at NASA who played instrumental roles in some of their most iconic missions, promotes the message that “We shall overcome”.

But it’s more than just a ‘Black movie’ – it’s an intelligent movie. It forces us to revisit one of the most monumental events in American history and acknowledge the unsung heroes that made it possible. It’s not a story that many people have heard before, but it’s one we all deserve to. It is a feminist movie, one that demonstrates a triumph of progress and perseverance through the rampant sexism of the 60’s.

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Hidden Figures, 2016

“The fight has changed, the stereotypes remain, and the cause will never die.”

A woman of colour doesn’t face racism and sexism separately. The sexism she faces is often racialised, and the racism she faces is often sexualised. Black Americans have endured innumerable hardships since their involuntary migration and subsequent enslavement from Africa to America. The game-changing book “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race” by British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge details the equivalent Black British experience, which is far less talked about.

The labour of women, but especially women of colour, is undervalued and overlooked. We are glaringly absent from textbooks, and our whitewashed histories are only available during Black History Month or through elective courses.

The representation of Black women throughout history has affected the way Black people, as well as Western society, values, identifies and idealises Black women in general. There have clearly been changes in these ideologies over time, and they are heavily influenced by the way Black women are represented in media.

Black Panther is an important film for diversity across various spectrum’s. It’s a blockbuster movie that features a majority Black cast with major names attached to it, and the merchandising is aimed at Black children. Its existence in the pop culture scene and what it means for representation in media cannot be understated and yes, finally, it is a film that Black women can actually celebrate.

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Black Panther, 2018

The narrative places the women of Black Panther front and centre, making them the heroes of their own stories. From the start, the story avoids the sexist tropes we are accustomed to watching in film.

Black Panther contains powerful messages about gender roles. The Wakandan women’s sex appeal is obvious, but secondary to their personality and skill, and rarely do we see Black women who are as assertive and independent as they are in this Marvel creation. Furthermore, almost every significant female role is played by a dark-skinned actress. It’s amazing to witness.

Yet a YouGov survey recently found that most Americans still believe there are not enough film roles for women and people of colour. The survey of 1,220 adults found that 37% of respondents believed women had enough roles available, just 2% points more than people who believed black people had enough parts available.

On-screen representations of minorities, the survey found, are seen as sometimes inauthentic, though that depends on whom you asked. Nearly half of Black respondents (46%) said on-screen representation of black characters were inauthentic, about twice the rate of the respondents overall. The analysis reveals people of colour remained underrepresented, considering they comprised 40% of the U.S. population in 2016.

Just 13.9% of the year’s film leads and 12.6% of film directors were people of colour.
But what does this mean now? The portrayal of Black women has certainly changed since the age of Blaxploitation, and of course, the success of Black women should be celebrated on screens, but do a few big-budget films with a Black cast count as progress? Is it fair?

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Fences, 2016

Investing in stories that center around people of colour without dwelling on their pain or oppression is a large step towards healing, particularly in this brutal contemporary political climate. It’s important not just to show tokenised images of Black characters, but to present diverse narratives of individuals with different stories and experiences.
It can be argued that in Hollywood, in an industry where everything is about marketing and making fortunes, that money is the only motivator. Therefore, Hollywood isn’t being progressive in including more Black actors and characters, they’re being tactical.

It seems that Hollywood has yet to understand what makes money, however. The last report on diversity in UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies shows that “films and television shows with casts attuned to America’s diversity tend to register the highest global box office figures and viewer ratings.” Yet the study still indicates that the industry could do better.

While the data notes that some progress has been made, it also highlights that Hollywood decision-makers still consider the presence of diverse talent to be the exception, rather than the rule, but sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. To reach a point where we can put marginalised voices on screens, and tell the stories of women of colour without any prescribed idea of what we should be, to find real examples of those like ourselves – this can all be attained.

A few extra nominations won’t undo years of exclusion of women and PoC, because we are as different as we are complicated. Hollywood has to actively work to give more opportunities to those previously ostracised and make sure a wider range of stories get told.

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The Black Feminist Documentary, 2019

The rise of ‘eco-anxiety’ in an Extinction Rebellion era

In the midst of the US President’s continued active denial of climate change and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s unclear stance on the issue, we sit in the most brutally severe heatwave we’ve had since 1911. It’s easy for anybody to feel discouraged and anxious about the environmental trajectory.

As a student or young person, there are a lot of things in life that tend to make us feel anxious. The looming dread of adulthood, rising rent prices, feeling lost about what you’re going to do with your life, Brexit, the temperature, the temperature, the temperature.

The warmth was nice for a little while but isn’t it getting a little, I don’t know, excessive? And people are protesting at the Houses of Parliament? And stripping naked in the House of Commons? And protesting outside the houses of MPs? Who are the Extinction Rebels?

The full notion of the tragedy that is climate change is unravelling before our eyes. And it’s extremely overwhelming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, we have 12 years to fix the crisis. However, a recent BBC article argues that the next 18 months are absolutely vital to acting on our global warming crisis.

According to environment correspondent Matt McGrath, the loss of biodiversity “threatens to unravel the planetary web of life.” One million species are at risk of extinction and human civilisation faces total collapse if radical changes to our socioeconomic system are not made now.

For some people, climate change may feel like an inevitable event that is totally out of our control. For others, the knowledge of this can be overwhelming to the point where they feel powerless.

Yet, since the pioneering 16-year-old Greta Thunberg popularised the climate strikes late last year, the awareness surrounding just how dire the climate crisis is has risen and become more pressing. This has been good for action and productivity, especially with social media becoming a catalyst for global issues and bringing them to the forefront. Many countries, including the UK, have subsequently declared climate emergencies.

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Image Credit: World Economic Forum via Flickr

In one of her most powerful speeches to British MPs, condemning their stance on climate change, Greta said, “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in the solutions that will enable you to carry on like before.”

However, being aware of the current state of the environment doesn’t come without compromise. In this case, it’s towards your mental health – it has a name and, most notably, it’s nothing new. The group that this disorder tends to heavily affect are indigenous communities that live close to the equator as well as those that depend on the natural environment, who can experience disproportionate mental health impacts.

Climate anxiety is a relatively recent phenomenon, but the concern is spreading. The phrase doesn’t have an official meaning, yet variations to the definition exist; such as the broader description explaining it as the “worry or agitation caused by concerns about the present and future state of the environment”.

Eco-anxiety, then, is ultimately having a strong feeling of unease surrounding ecological disasters and threats to the natural environment, such as pollution and climate change. An issue that doesn’t only show physical symptoms, such as insomnia, loss of appetite, irritability and panic attacks, but also the results of a constructive or adaptive reaction associated with pro-environmental attitudes and actions.

A very small number of mental health professionals in the UK have begun to mobilise against the phenomenon, but there are plenty of online forums and support groups gaining momentum.

Whether you’re feeling the heat of eco-anxiety or not, here are just a few simple steps that can help make a difference if you are feeling resigned to climate change doom. As we all know, charity begins at home and no man is an island, yet if we all collectively commit to these small acts, the world will ultimately become a better place. Plus we’d be doing our girl Greta proud.

RECYCLE – Use different bins for different things. Compost, plastics and glass should NOT be going in the same bin.
GO ‘SORT OF’ VEGAN – If you’re not vegan, I am not going to shame you into cutting meat from your diet entirely. However, I will encourage you to eat less pork and beef, and eat more food that uses fewer protein sources, i.e. organic soy.
PACKAGING – A recent viral internet thing has happened where people are calling out supermarkets for their unnecessary amount of plastic use. Think about packaging before you buy products.
BE PROACTIVE – Look around you. If you see rubbish on the floor, pick it up. Encourage your local community to do more. Or at least tell your friends, family and whoever you want to do their piece.

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder or panic attacks, visit your local GP or wellbeing service to find out how you can be supported. For more information, visit Mind.

Djuna Barnes, gender trouble and lesbian desire

A piece exploring the impact of Djuna Barnes in queer literature. Originally posted on The National Student.

Dying on this day in 1982 at the age of 90, it’s difficult to say that the poet, artist and novelist didn’t live a significant life with impact within queer literature.

Djuna Barnes was at various times a poet, journalist, playwright, theatrical columnist and novelist who then liked to be called “The Barnes.” A recluse, the writer’s avant-garde and “most famous unknown” literary work won wide acclaim in the 1920’s and 30’s, was once a writing talent of the Lost Generation era. The tag the ‘Lost Generation’ came from a remark by Gertrude Stein to Ernest Hemingway when she said, “All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”

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Barnes’ work was mostly given attention to by academic professors and students. Other than fitting within a the category of being a modernist text, she got kudos from writers like T.S. Eliot, who referred to her “a living genius”, as well as Dylan Thomas who called her works “one of the three major prose works by a woman” (probably a back-handed compliment). These comments were made alongside the praise of Graham Greene, Samuel Beckett, Janet Flanner, Lawrence Durrell, Kenneth Burke and Sir Herbert Read, and The Spectator compared Barnes to Virginia Woolf, declaring ”It is clear that a writer of genuine importance has made herself known to us.”

Even the New York Times referred to her as “The American Woolf”; the work is an important milestone on any map of gay literature – even though, like all the best books, its power makes a nonsense of any categorisation, especially of gender and sexuality, this anti-categorisation tendency in Barnes is perhaps due to the ways in which society pathlogizes differences.

Au Café, famous photo by Maurice Brange, depicting Solita Solano and Djuna Barnes in Paris, 1922

However, Barnes never kept it peaceful. Though her works have remained obscure to the broader reading public, she started earning notoriety, starting with a preformative piece the New York World Magazine, where she was force-fed to illustrate the fate of hunger-striking suffragettes, and the accompanying photo shows her stoically being held down by three men while a doctor snakes a tube up her nose.

She also began using herself as a pawn in what she called “My Adventures Being Rescued,” in which she put herself in peril at a firemen’s training session, hanging several stories up in a long black dress. Barnes became a regular on the set of the women’s boxing beat. Her writing is full of misfits, eccentrics, socialists, free thinkers, immigrants and the homeless.

Djuna Barnes was never cautious, and so, because ”Nightwood” in large part concerns a doomed lesbian love affair, the novel would be highly praised despite claiming to not even being gay. She was quick to offend without even checking on herself, while continuously breaking barriers.

“So love, when it has gone, taking time with it, leaves a memory of its weight.” – Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, climate change and virtual reality

How Daniel Steegmann Mangrané effectively expressed the damages of climate change and colonialism through a virtual utopia.

From the 16th February 2019, Nottingham Contemporary has been exhibiting the work of Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, showcasing his debut major show. A Catalan-born artist whose primary focus is the effect of post-colonialism in the rainforests through radical anthropology, aiming to investigate the prospects and abilities of technologies and diverse mediums. Curated by Abi Spinks, the show features new and existing works of hypnotic installations, a 16mm film, architectural sets and virtual reality goggles where spectators can explore the essences of nature from the gallery.

The Rio de Janeiro-based artist portrays bearings of the Mata Atlântica, Brazil’s Atlantic tropical rainforest, one which has suffered more within its ecosystem than any other large forest in the world. The Atlantic Rainforest is one of the most important biodiverse areas in the world, yet preserving only 7% of its original surface left. Originally stretching across Brazil’s coastline, it once covered parts of Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay but today only survives in small, degraded patches and protected areas. Since as early as the 16th Century, Mata Atlântica has been through many conflicts; ranging from territorial, human, geographic and historical factors to scientific, ecological and economic components.

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These pressures have subjected the rainforest to a significant shift in its environment, with an array of competing demands of the territory creating a stimulation of relationships and a complex and impervious network. “The rainforest is a metaphor and model of thinking” Steegmann personifies. Influenced by the work of fundamental Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, who coined the term ‘Perspectivism’ in the 90s, a movement that supports the view that perception, experience, and reason all change according to the viewer’s relative perspective and interpretation.

Perspectivism is based on the Amerindian belief that everything has a form of spirit that is alive and well. This mirrors with Steegmann’s installations and the way he conveys his work, blurring the lines between material and immaterial. By applying differing patterns, configurations and technologies he uses different mediums to show how the environment can be represented. This approach highlights the limits of representation, also actively going against the opposite to Western thought since the onset of modernity making spectators rethink nature as we know it.

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April has seen over 130 galleries, museums, and creative institutions across the UK declare a ‘climate and ecological emergency’, calling for immediate action to combat the climate change crisis; an exhibition such as this one would deem fitting. Upon entry, we are immediately engulfed by Steegmann’s vision of a disintegrating ecosystem. The brand new 2019 installation of _C_A_N_O_P_Y_ demonstrates geometric forms in an organic fashion, by cutting certain shapes into the ceiling and letting the light seep through in a dark room in order to mirror sunlight penetrating the forest canopy.

The same room, contains a surreal virtual reality environment which is accessed through a HTC Vive Pro headset experienced with a Oculus Rift headset titled Phantom (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) (2015). A piece designed to engulf it’s users into a 3D scan of the deteriorating Mata Atlântica, the interactive yet devastating reality informs through a full headset that covers all your main senses while the VR-user describes their environment to onlookers through their movements, almost feeling the anxiety of the disappearing nature as it’s happening.

Just before entering the next gallery, within a small hidden room, is 16mm (2009-11) a 16mm film with synchronised 4-channel digital sound as part of this piece is a film that draws into the depths of the rainforest at the same pace as the footage roll, linking the film and the rainforest mechanically and abstractly and through a Structuralist approach, we are immersed into a montage of this verdant verdure.

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The final room exhibits the brand new 2019 artwork, Living Thoughts (2019). At first glance, the glass and epiphytic plants look as though they’re floating in thin air. Working alongside London-based glass-maker Jochen Holz, the two created hand-blown branches that are attached to orchids; mosses; cacti and bromeliads alike to mirror the multiple lives and layers that exist within the rainforest that coexist yet fight to survive.

Incorporating his interest of biology since early childhood, Daniel Steegmann Mangrané expresses his feelings of admiration yet reasonable concern over the earth’s current environmental state. While highlighting themes of climate change we are also made more aware through an interaction that is given beyond a way that we’re used to, but are able to consume-through technology. The Word For World is Forest gives an escapist feel of fantasy yet once you delve in deeper to its context, a brutal realisation surfaces that not everything is as it is perceived.

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What I learnt from celebrating ‘Galentine’s Day’

The closing of a year is often lead with great anticipation. Halloween, bonfire night, Thanksgiving (for my American readers), Hanukkah, Christmas celebrations and then finally…the New Years build up. Then creeps in January, dragging its oversized shoes on the floor. January is like the Maroon 5 performing at the Super Bowl of months, despite my own birthday being during this month, I too, have to admit that it overstays it’s welcome. A guest that you were once looking forward to seeing, but is now refusing to leave.

Then, after this excruciatingly dull month of broken resolutions and “I’ll start tomorrow”-s, comes an infamously suffocating day for singles and even couples alike. Valentine’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of the day because it allows you to show appreciation to your significant other, plus the aesthetic of pink and red hearts everywhere may appear as obnoxious to some but I personally think they’re beautiful and uplifting. In a world that seems to forever filled with fake news and depressing headlines, then to suddenly be hit with flowers of all colours and love hearts is pretty encouraging to me. Lord knows we all need it.

But there is also a capitalist, ‘do it for the gram’ element involved which takes the real fun out of it. An haughty, pompous aspect that places couples to compare themselves to other couples. As though your relationships’ depth and meaning is measured based off of your financial income. A factor that is unfair and shallow to say the least. Personally, I’m a working-class student with low earning parents. Therefore, I don’t get any help from them. I simply rely on myself and how often I work, when I can. But with juggling a degree, a long distance relationship and other prospects; it can all get a little (VERY) strenuous. So with this continuous obligation to flex our lives on social media adds even more pressure on this particular occasion, minus the others- birthdays, Christmas etc.

In fact, just yesterday I was speaking to a work colleague who did not hesitate to tell me all about the expensive trips and gifts that her much older boyfriend so lovingly gives. Of course then, this was met with my own romance interrogation; “Where did you go?” “How much did they spend on you?” and “How much did YOU spend on THEM?” So whether you’re in a relationship or not, Valentine’s Day can be a bit of a pain. Don’t worry single people, least you can treat yourself to a cheap bottle of wine and a Netflix marathon then call it a night, it’s not as pathetic as everyone makes it out to be. I promise.

Anyhow, so due to my long-distance relationship circumstances, this year I decided to celebrate my first ever Galentine’s Day with my single friends. Because being single doesn’t mean that you’re alone, at all. This is a holiday that, among other things, highlights the political power of female friendship: Galentine’s Day. To quote main character Leslie Knope, “What’s Galentine’s Day? “Oh, it’s only the best day of the year!” So for context, back in February 2010, NBC inaugurated the holiday on its sitcom Parks and Recreation, starring Amy Poehler’s iconic character Leslie Knope, a described ‘civic crusader’ and ‘friend extraordinaire’. As Knope explains it, each year on February 13th, she gathers together all her best female friends, including her mother, to celebrate what she loves about her female companions over waffles.

However, the biggest lesson that I learnt from Galentine’s Day isn’t to only challenge hetero-normative romantic relationships and gross gender roles and forever pining over ‘the right one’ but of also finally normalising the idea that being single IS NOT something to be distracted from. As someone that is currently in a relationship, I can understand why you’re reading this whilst rolling your eyes. Or how this advice would fall on death ears. Take this with a pinch of salt if you must, but the most significant rule to remember is that you’re able to be by yourself and not hate it. I know right, wild(!) I apologise if this sounds patronising, but you’re allowed to be single on purpose and enjoy it.

Galentine’s day doesn’t have to be surrounded by the concept of filling some sort of ‘romantic void’ otherwise you’re not full. That’s a complete lie. People speak to me nowadays as if by having a boyfriend, I have been “blessed” and that I have been changed for the better. As much as I love being in a relationship, I can be strong and empowered whether I’m in one or not. Galentine’s Day is for all female-identifying folks celebrating themselves, no man-dominated underbelly included, please.

As well as this, Galentines Day should be as inclusive as we can possibly make it. Not everybody has this Sex and the City and Pretty Little Liars-esque girl group. Sometimes our closest friends live in different parts of the country and so seeing all these cliquey squads can emphasise on the loneliness. I often feel it. So another lesson I have learnt is to keep open-minded and productive when it comes to this kind of thing. Galentine’s can be a beautiful day, but always remember to show love and support for women throughout all the other days to.

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Still I Rise: ‘Feminisms, Gender, Resistance’ Exhibition review

On October 26th, the Nottingham Contemporary art gallery launched a new effervescent exhibition titled ‘Still I Rise’ which runs until 27th January, 2019. The name stems from Maya Angelou’s empowering poem from 1978 which tackles subjects of prejudice and injustice.

Similarly to the poem, the exhibition showcases themes of resistance, gender, feminism and resilience as well as exploring the roles that women played in the history of resistance movements. It also refers to artists spanning centuries and continents who are protesting and exploring new, alternative forms of living.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

Coinciding with the centenary of women’s suffrage within the UK, this major group is a demonstration of endurance around the world, spanning across the time periods between the late 19th century to present reforms.

The exhibition also references key historic moments including the Civil Rights Movement, resistance against dictatorships in Latin America in the 1960’s–70’s, independence movements against colonial rule in Africa, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the AIDS crisis and the Stonewall Rebellion, exhibiting pieces from a multiplicity of perspectives, from minor cases on the domestic sphere to larger scale uprisings.

Since opening in 2009, the Nottingham Contemporary has been the city’s chance to make a larger cultural mark in the global art scene, highlighting social upheavals and movements through art.

What is most compelling about this new exhibition is how it captures such a pivotal era, showcasing art as a form of protest, declaration and revelation. The exhibition itself signifies the abuse of power by those who sit in high government positions, as well as the judiciary and people within the police force. For the public, it sends out clear, repeated messages of hope. For those who understand the meaning of repeated wrongdoing, the title ‘Still I Rise’ becomes an anthem, a beacon of hope for the oppressed and downtrodden.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

Upon arrival, spectators are immediately faced with a giant board with pens and coloured paper on the side. On each piece of paper, visitors are addressed with questions such as “Blank page – Share your thoughts and feelings about the stories and themes in the exhibition” and “What does resistance look like to you? Share your acts of resistance”.

Not only do these types of statements engage viewers into the exhibition and facilitate individuals to involve their personal input, but they also help to widen conversations for future observers, opening up a much-needed discussion. This form of interactive art enables visitors to build their own versions of the accompanying publication, reflecting a history of self-publishing as a form of resistance. Answers were often playful but pressing, with answers written in permanent marker such as “TRANS RIGHTS R HUMAN RIGHTS” and “BEING WHOEVER THE F@#& I WANT TO BE!”.

Within the exhibition, there are different rooms for each gallery, and each one of these rooms is arranged thematically across different practices and waves of feminism. Above the artworks themselves, the exhibition displays have been designed by f-architecture, a research-based architectural practice which explores issues surrounding the spatial politics of bodies and subjects.

As well as the catalogue, which is by OOMK (One of My Kind), the London-based collaborative publishing practice that has produced a book with rearrange-able pages to allow the reader to structure their own thoughts.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

The first artist to be gazed upon is none other than feminist artist Judy Chicago, with a pink-peach background for a wall, Chicago’s explosive colour pieces are complimented marvellously. It’s been over 50 years since the artist debuted her flame, fireworks and smoke performances on print, yet the pyrotechnics of Smoking Bodies in the Californian desert still ignites the same passionate reaction today. Chicago created this body of work as a reaction to the male dominance of land art created in the 1960’s.

Other standout pieces were displayed proudly within another gallery room titled ‘A Rumour’. This area features an array of protest posters showcased a decade later, during the 70’s, by the See Red Women’s Workshop, covering topics from abortion rights to Margaret Thatcher’s benefit cuts. There are also Suffragette Mary Lowndes’s detail-orientated and crafted banners that were designed for the 1908 National Union of Suffrage Societies procession, alongside a selection of prison photographs of female anarchists affiliated with the Paris Commune of 1871.

Queer artists, however, made the most significant impact in this particular area; a tower of Zoe Leonard’s infamous poem ‘I WANT A DYKE FOR PRESIDENT’ was distributed to visitors of the exhibition. The piece highlights the need for a wave of politicians which represent marginal voices across the spectrum. Despite being published in 1992, it recently regained recognition and relevancy as it was performed as a rap by Mykki Blanco for a video, during the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential Election.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

The erasure of minorities and the outvoted isn’t uncommon within history. There have been many examples in recent years which show that many important movements and advancements within biographies involved more than the white men who were accredited. I recently read a line inside the Stanford Daily about representation which said “Representation can make disadvantaged groups become real people” and I think I’ll continue to use this quote in the future because it’s true, and that’s why exhibitions like these are so engaging: they help us to realise that there is a lot going on outside of our echo chamber.

There are patriarchal hierarchies and that’s the brutal truth about the world we live in, within all sectors. Whether we agree or understand it all or not is irrelevant because not everything is our story to tell and a lot of the time, we want to be heard more than actually understood. Isn’t that what Maya Angelou fought for her entire life anyway?

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

Tyler Spangler on throwing illegal parties and how to be drugs without doing them 

Even if you don’t recognise the name, you would have encountered his work in some shape or form; Tyler Spangler is a Cali-native artist who rose to fame through his lurid, bold and vibrant pieces. As Jealous Gallery puts it, Tyler’s work focuses on the formalist relationship between images removed from their original context, while exploring the connotations of colour, form, and photography.

His work is the physical equivalent to a Flume song, sonically pleasing with a floating, comatose feeling. Tyler explains his style as “A grape flavoured Popsicle dipped in the ocean and placed on a rock to melt”. Whereas his lecturers and teachers could only describe it as looking like “a high school year book on acid”. Yet despite the substance influenced scenes, Tyler denies any involvement with the stuff and claims to be just “a bit obsessive”. Tyler’s work disseminates the world around him of surfing and west coast sunshine, but doesn’t stay ignorant by exploring the human condition and involving some significant political messages on gun control and mental health.

Tyler Spangler’s work caught my eye when I was around 15 years-old, my GCSE art teachers made us get a Pinterest account to ‘seek inspiration’, and upon scrolling aimlessly for what used to feel like hours, I came across his websites and social media pages which I later came to discover held 160k+ followers on his Instagram alone and double that on his Tumblr.

I was pretty captivated by the way that he plays with animation and colour, placing  bright colours, psychedelic patterns and cartoons and intertwining it with black and white old photography combing two different forms of art, creating  an outcome of colourful stimuli into the modern ‘gif’ age. This cool mix of old and new reminded me of a modern day Andy Warhol, even though my GCSE level attempts to recreate his art was beyond poor, he still saved me when I was feeling uninspired and landed me a decent grade, so I felt almost obliged to reach out- and you could have imagined my reaction once he responded (excited). That being said, here’s the exclusive chat I had with the artist, the first one I’ve ever interviewed too, and he did not disappoint.

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Your work mostly involves rather random images taken out of context, where do you source them?

I source all of my imagery from royalty free sites such as flickr commons, library of congress, and sphere.

Describe your work using 3 adjectives.

Chaotic, calming, curious.

You originally got a BA in psychology, what made you decide to explore digital collage?

I originally made hand collages on my bedroom floor which was really fun. I began exploring digital collage soon after and fell in love with the immediate manipulations and availability of imagery.

What’s the design process like typically? How long does it take you to create a collage?

It varies drastically. Most of the time I will search for imagery with no intention in mind and I basically just wait for something to spark an idea. I am always listening to music while I work. I used to listen to a lot of Electric Wizard but I am mixing it up and listening to this really cool YouTube channel called Don’s Tunes which is basically just modern covers of old blues songs. I really like to listen to slow and emotional music when I work – I think it helps access subconscious ideas.

How do you keep coming up with fresh, new and original content?

I sort of force myself to make new stuff everyday. I have gotten to the point where I get anxious if I am on vacation or away and I wont be able to make something. In those cases I just make extra work or repost old pieces. I tend to look at a lot of my old pieces and try to reinterpret them if I am at a loss for ideas. It usually comes out different so I am not too worried about recycling ideas.

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Do you ever get creators block? If so, how do you usually overcome it?

Probably about 40% of the time I sit down to work. I will just brute force myself through it and mix it with video games. I will start something then pause and play a video game or make food then come back to it. Temporarily taking a break is good.

You dropped out of the Art Centre College of Design, why was this? Do you think creatives can pursue their dream without getting a formal education?

I didn’t think the price justified what I was getting out of it. I didn’t want to begin my career in a financial hole in an industry where truth is subjective. Being in debt would force me to do work that I wasn’t interested in. I think it is definitely possible to be a creative without formal education but its definitely harder. You have to work your ass off, have something unique, and kinda get lucky.

How would you say your personality is reflected in your work?

I think it is a reflection of my introversion mixed with my curiosity for chaos. Originally I would interpret my emotions through imagery but recently I have started to experiment with typographic pieces. Its kind of cool to be a little more literal. I like to think I have a very playful and humorous personality and I think the colors and imagery I use reflect that.

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What do you think are some of the most inspiring things happening in art currently?

I think its amazing how artists are making mental health more positive. Im not sure this is entirely new but I have been noticing more attention and acceptance of mental health issues in the art community. It is really fun to bring awareness to such an important cause.

Some of your more recent pieces was a graphic commentary on the state of gun laws in America, do you think art should be more political or should, just be? Especially during these particularly divisive and politically polarising times.

I think art can be whatever anyone wants it to be. Its hard not to be political with art as it is a reflection of the self and environment in which one lives. I am not a political person but I like to create what I feel and sometimes it just comes out.

How do you think the internet has affected graphic design? Has social media been used to your advantage?

In one sense it has homogenised style’s but it has also created a competitive environment where the most enticing work will rise to the surface. Staying prolific is rewarded with attention. Social media is the main reason I am able to freelance. I am quite an obsessive person and the efficiency of being able to send my portfolio to 50 companies in one day for free sure beats the old method of sending an expensive physical portfolio to a company and paying for postage. Social media has removed a lot of the risk.

You ran an illegal punk venue for 13 shows which eventually got shut down by the police, that’s pretty badass. Speak a little about that, what would the shows entail?

After I graduated from college I had no idea what I wanted. I just knew that I loved surfing, art, and music. I loved going to punk shows and made friends with one band in particular. There is never enough if any all ages venues in most cities. I thought it would be cool to take a stab at running a cool warehouse where bands could play regardless of age. So I basically took my savings and convinced a guy from craigslist to let me pay 3 months up front. Everything went fine up until the cops came after the third week. Shows were super fun. The first show everyone lit fireworks which was exhiliarting but almost gave me a heart attack at the thought of a fire. Another show resulted in someones leg going through the wall into the neighboring business. I had to apologize and haphazardly repair the wall myself. A lot of it was just empowerment of knowing that I created something out of nothing.

And lastly, what advice would you give to any struggling creative out there?

If you are truly passionate about working in a creative field, stay true to your own style and be honest. There is nothing worse then making a watered down version of someone else.

Keep up with Tyler and find him here;

Website– http://tylerspangler.com/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/tyler_spangler/

Buy his prints– https://society6.com/tylerspangler/s?q=new

Buy his designs on shirts– https://tylerspangler.bigcartel.com/

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All work copyright © Tyler Spangler