WHO IS LUKA FISHER?
A CURATED CONVERSATION WITH THE LA BASED ARTIST
BY ANNA UREÑA
Luka Fisher has been an unofficial patron of the arts for DRYLAND since its inception in 2015. I don’t know how she heard about us back then but I liked the work she sent us and published her short films and multimedia pieces. After that, we were showcasing photographers, filmmakers, performance artists, and poets like Genevieve Munroe, Kayla Tange, Matthew Kaundart, Chelsea Bayouth, Leila Jarma, and Mike Leisz—artists who were all tracing back to Luka Fisher. After a non-investigation into who she was (I don’t lurk, I’m oldschool like that), it was clear that this would one day require a meet up.
In 2016, we made plans to meet at a MRK show at Honey Trap, a DIY art/music space in DTLA…and we kind of almost did meet. I showed up and looked around for Luka but she was nowhere to be seen. I texted her “I’m here. Where are you?” to which I received no reply. After the bands played, they rolled out a body on a table completely wound in plastic wrap like a cocoon. I didn’t know this was in store for the night since I never saw the event flyer but I was curious. Throughout the performance I wasn’t sure whose body I was watching being put under torturous circumstances (but I did keep suspecting it was Luka’s). The face was distorted by how tight the plastic was gripped around the head and the head had bright red lipstick and silver eye shadow, shimmery like a koi fish with a gaping mouth under the track lights. And then when the pale-skinned body was freed from the plastic encasing, and emerged, bloody and lightheaded, everyone involved quietly went on to a back room. It was then when I came to my fine (inebriated) conclusion that it indeed was Luka Fisher who was tied up (and thus could not text back). Some friends were waiting to leave so I came up to her, quickly introduced myself and then shook her hand all professional-like and left the show.
When we actually actually met a few weeks ago, it was way less dramatic. She scooped me up from my house and we kicked it at her DTLA studio. We hung out a few times and had conversations about art, our origins, politics (Fuck Trump). This “interview” is a compact version of those conversations. Who’s Luka Fisher? Peel back slowly… and see.
Much of your art is collaborative. You’ve worked with other local artists like Peter Kalisch, Christopher Zeischegg, Leila Jarman, Matthew Kaundart, Kayla Tange, Daniel Crook,Tristene Roman and others. How does a collaboration start with you?
What has been your favorite art performance or collaboration? I can name the time I almost met you at the Honey Trap warehouse…that was pretty memorable.
My collaborations are usually just the physical manifestation of an ongoing dialogue with the other artist about our lives and aspirations. Collaboration then is a kind of cultural exchange where we learn each other’s languages and explore new territories together. In this regard I think “Danny Wylde” was one of my most interesting collaborations because it combined literature, pornography, performance and visual art, with film and advertising. It was the kind of work that could have never been made without contributions and exchanges from Chris Zeischegg, Sheree Rose, Matthew Kaundart, and countless others. And the same could be said about some of the zines/actions that I curated like The Golden Fool , The Holy Automatic or my foray into hot sauce with Royce Burke and co.
How do you decide if a piece is any good? Do you feel it out or just say fuck it or…?
I think that it’s hard to answer this question without sounding like a mystical douchebag. But fuck it here I go: I keep working until the piece tells me that it is done. When the work has taken on a life of its own and can exist without me then I send it off into the world.
Speaking of style…you currently dress in a style you call “Art Mom”. What inspires your looks?
I’ve always wanted to look like a Congressman’s eccentric wife or a ex-punk PTA mom that takes care of her art kids. So, my style then is really just a compromise between how I, in the abstract, imagine such people would dress and what I can find on sale at Goodwill.
How do you feel about getting negative reviews?
I figure any review is a positive review because someone was triggered enough by the work to either spend their unpaid time singing it’s praises or hurling shit at it.
Most of your work isn’t exactly politically inclined. Has the fact that the USA is now running under the Trump administration changed your feelings about what to create? Or about the duty or responsibility of an artist to speak out? What are your thoughts on how artists play a part in resisting the new regime?
It is true that much of my work is not overtly political within the context of contemporary American art, but I began making art and contemplating its function while I was studying in various parts of Russia. There, I watched the government crackdown on queer art and underground cultures under the pretext that these groups were creating dangerous and immoral “propaganda.” I watched with horror as a country and culture that I deeply love descended again into authoritarianism and spectacle. There the government used prejudice, god and patriotism to consolidate its power.
Russia’s crackdown on LGBTQ rights and civil society more broadly has been extremely disheartening to me because I had finally found a place I felt comfortable and they weren’t comfortable with me. And it’s awful to watch a culture that you love try and kill itself.
As I began making art in Russia, I was forced to contemplate what was at stake in my work. Ultimately, I decided that I had to risk being myself regardless of the consequences.
But there I was a foreigner and a student and so I was never fully affected by these policies because I could always leave and return to the United States where we didn’t have these problems.
And so I did some translation work and tried to promote mutual understanding between our countries trusting that in time cooler heads would prevail.
Now, I realize that Russia was a time machine for what America is about to become under Donald Trump.
So, I have always seen my work as political in the sense that the personal is political and I am interested in both creating and promoting work that provides an alternative to our fear driven culture. And I am doing this because I believe that artists are cultural translators that can build bridges between disparate communities. By couching ideas in “spectacle,” “entertainment,” artists can create spaces for understanding and facilitate cooperation between communities in ways that can never be fully achieved through coercion. Art, broadly defined, can also create a safe space for communities that feel threatened by dominant cultures.
I hate that we as Americans live in a heteronormative hyper masculine culture that fears vulnerability, hates creative self-expression and tries to imprison us with fear and hatred and that our only acceptable outlets for our angst are based on consumption and conquest.
And I have been trying to counter these tendencies by creating and promoting alternative cultures. We cannot succeed with hate; we must present alternatives.
The political nature of my work has become more overt in the past year or so as I began to see free speech and creative self-expression come under attack by Facebook and Google. First, I witnessed Facebook increasingly crackdown on artists and activists with their prejudicial “community standards” which are based on mid-west, middlebrow values of what’s acceptable.
The effects of these standards are chilling and affect everything from how artists create and distribute work to who gets to speak and how. For example, people have had their images banned from Facebook for being “too fat,” for their disabilities, for remembering historic war crimes, or for just documenting indigenous cultures whose very existence seems to upset Facebook’s colonial values and targeted queer protestors. Yet, much of this behavior is ok if you are Kim Kardashian or some other pop celebrity. Like much of America, there are two sets of rules. One for those in power and another for those on the fringe.
And if this isn’t enough to make you think that Facebook and its rules are serious then consider that the police officers that murdered Philando Castile are on trial for manslaughter because their actions were streamed on Facebook Live. Unfortunately, such videos are rarely seen by mass audiences because Facebook almost always collaborates with the police to suppress such footage.
Facebook has also been caught experimenting on its users.
Facebook and its ilk have become our town squares and we cannot allow them to radically curtail our right to a free and open discourse with those that we choose to associate with just because they are supposedly private entities.
Because only the government is legally obligated to protect our civil liberties, those that seek to repress and control us have been using corporations to wage a stealth culture war. This is why banks and money transfer services like Paypal often working in tandem with the Treasury Department have enacted policies that target “pornographers” and shut down their bank accounts, even when they are operating in full compliance with Federal and State laws.
And because these actions have been taken by “private entities”, even when they are in all actuality collaborating with the Government, Civil Libertarians have largely kept their mouths shut.
I fear that this private war on our freedoms will only escalate. Now, back to Facebook and its repressive rules.
Facebook’s “community standards” infantilizes its users and helps maintain a culture of sexual repression, fear and violence.
Facebook asserts that paintings of nudity are acceptable but nude photos cannot be tolerated. Rules like these become even more absurd when you consider that any painting that you see on Facebook is really just a photograph; or that artists like Andy Warhol, Carollee Scheneman, Yves Klein, Robert Rauschenberg, Steven Johnson Leyba, and countless others integrated photography and living bodies so thoroughly into their art that these distinctions are largely meaningless.
This is why much of my art explores nudity and other “taboo” topics in a mixed-media fashion. I am trying to start fights with Facebook over their understanding of what Art is, knowing that they will violate their own rules and ignore the last hundred years of developments within fine art which has blurred the lines between photography and painting; Art and Life.
I then document their punishments in the hopes of starting a larger conversation about how these social networks are affecting our cultural and political lives and what we must do to counter them.
I became further convinced that these organizations needed to be challenged after Google deleted fourteen years of novelist Dennis Cooper’s work and refused for months to do anything to address this matter. If Google was willing to erase the artistic contributions of one of the most controversial and critically acclaimed writers alive today without any due process, then how can we trust them with our lives or our work?
Now in the aftermath of Trump’s election it appears that Facebook and other sources of “big data” may have swung the election for Trump.
This why we need to take these platforms and the data that they are collecting on us seriously.
The artist Joseph Beuys talked about “Social Sculpture” and how every citizen is an artist that participates in the construction in the Total Artwork of their society, but this idea was always vague in part because it was hard to see all the invisible connections that tie us together. However, social networks make some of these connections visible. We can track, respond and coordinate actions in real time. Which is why I believe that we need to think about Social Network Sculpture and what that might look like in practice. In other words how can we be better, more engaged citizens on and offline? How can we use these tools to create a better world? Do we need to create better tools? Do we need to radically rethink the social contract we’ve struck with social networks?
Perhaps, we’ve gotten into this whole mess by accepting that the internet rendered everything free and that all this data that we were handing over wasn’t all that big of a deal because these companies were “progressive” and “cool” and anyway, society had moved past the culture wars. Except of course that was all bullshit.
These are questions that I am now grappling with and that I would like to help work on with folks much smarter than me. I have been particularly interested by the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s initiative to document and fight censorship on Social Media. If you have ever been the victim of Facebook’s repressive policies you can submit a report here: https://onlinecensorship.org
I believe that we have a responsibility to speak out and to resist the unconstitutional and immoral policies of the current administration. Not just as artists or citizens, but as human beings. We need to peacefully put an end to this national nightmare as soon as possible. This is not a right or left wing issue. This is an existential issue. We cannot tolerate an administration that mistakes dick waving tough guy shenanigans for good governance.
However, I don’t think that resistance is enough. We need to imagine the worlds that we want to live in and actively work to make them a reality. We need to imagine our way out of this mess. And this again is where artists can help, because art is creative manifestation.
I also believe that artists can use their shows to help activists organize and to raise money for charities and that we can donate our time and expertise to causes that need help. Daniel Crook and I are going to start giving away our art at concerts to those who donate to a list of charities we are currently drawing up.
If you (the reader) have any ideas about how I can help or what we can do collectively as artists and citizens please let me know. I am ready to get my hands dirty.
Luka Fisher’s art is featured on the cover of Issue 6:
Correction: An earlier version of this interview named “Gina Canavan” as a contributor, that name has been corrected to “Genevieve Munroe.”
Anna Ureña is based in South Central L.A. and is founder and editor-in-chief of DRYLAND. She has worked for numerous organizations and has been published numerous times, but mainly she sits somewhere in space.