Sebastian Junger & Guillermo Cervera

A Discussion Between an Oscar-Nominated Director and Internationally Acclaimed Photographer

From 2007 to 2008, writer, seasoned war journalist and filmmaker Sebastian Junger went on patrol, survived an IED attack, endured firefights and boredom, and bonded with the soldiers of Camp Restrepo. Junger went on to direct the Oscar-nominated film Restrepo, which documented his year in Afghanistan. Guillermo Cervera is an internationally acclaimed photojournalist, documenting armed conflict and social issues for the international press.

 

Sebastian Junger and Guillermo Cervera recently spoke at NeueHouse about Junger’s latest documentary, The Last Patrol, and how the context of war can transform a person’s identity.

Advanced Style

A Film Celebrating the Most Stylish Members of the Silver-haired Set

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Ari Seth Cohen, founder of the blog Advanced Style, brings some of his most well-known subjects to life in his new documentary. Screened at NeueHouse last month, Advanced Style (the film) celebrates the most stylish and creative members of the silver-haired set, often strangers that Ari has encountered both in New York and abroad. The documentary delves into the personal lives and stories of his subjects, offering a new depth and roundness to these characters. The dazzling visuals and insight into these women’s lives serves as a reminder from the wise and uninhibited that personal style only advances with age, so long as you’re willing to take risks.

 

NeueHouse members joined the cast and crew after the screening for a conversation with Ari and Lina Plioplye of Advanced Style, moderated by Piera Gelardi of Refinery29.

 

Flip through our photo gallery for a few minutes of fun.

Happyokay

A Revival of the Avant-garde Artistry of 1950s Japan

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Early this month, in a revival of the avant-garde artistry of 1950s Japan, New York-based video collective LAST HOUR and Amsterdam-based performance collective House of Makers presented happyokay.

 

Bathed in violet light, both performers and audience gathered in the old Third Ward space in East Williamsburg. Guests stood shoulder to shoulder or sat Indian-style on a cool concrete floor, separated from the immersive art “happening” only by white spike tape outlining the performance space.

 

happyokay, or happyōkai (meaning “recitals” in Japanese), was directly inspired by Jikken Kobo (the Experimental Workshop), a creative collective based in Japan, which brought together composers, choreographers, filmmakers, artists, and poets. The Workshop’s performances were organized like recitals and performances mixed international work with newer Japanese compositions. Set almost entirely outside traditional museum environments, the ensemble distanced itself from the academic and formal art world.

 

In the spirit of The Workshop’s recital-like happenings, happyokay featured live performance by dancers from the New York City Ballet, choreographed by Dutch National Ballet choreographer Peter Leung, and included interactive videos, live classical musicians, and ambient soundscape. Throughout the three-hour event, three ballet dancers floated through the industrial-like space flanked by scenes of the same ensemble suspended in the air on screens overhead. Video showed the trio in dichotomous interactions, embracing each other softly or with mouths and eyes moving rapidly in some frenzied monologue. This immense experience was the shared vision of two collectives, House of Makers and LAST HOUR.

 

The subsequent film happyokay, scored by Caroline Polachek of Chairlift and Ramona Lisa, aimed to act as an extension of the physical happening.

 

LAST HOUR is a visual collective that produces and features experimental video content and installation work. The collective includes a roster of visual artists, DPs, editors, and creatives, founded by Elena Parasco.

 

House of Makers, comprised of Matthew Sky, Peter Leung and Sterre van Rossem, is a collective whose members include a dancer, a choreographer and a writer. The group’s mission is to constantly blur the lines between their separate fields. Both collectives creatively directed the immersive installation, adding to their body of work, which has appeared in major museums, festivals and international publications.

 

A week after the happening, I spoke with Dutch National Ballet choreographer and House of Makers founder Peter Leung. He had just returned to work in Amsterdam, and I could hear the shuffle of dancers in the background as we spoke via Skype from the studio. Leung told me about himself, his practice, and how happyokay came to be.

 

Alyse Archer-Coité: How did you find yourself working with happyokay?

 

Peter Leung: Well, 11 years ago I left Amsterdam for the South of France. I was looking for something a little more creative, something different to the classical work I had been doing with the Dutch National Ballet. I eventually returned to DNB, but never lost that need for something new, and began House of Makers to help find new markets for dance. We sought to expand into a younger and more dynamic demographic.

 

It was through this that I was introduced to Elena Parasco, of LAST HOUR, who conceived happyokay and invited us to choreograph it. I am English so, perhaps in a style typical of my countrymen, I am a bit of a realist. I often feel that like all is possible and all is impossible, simultaneously. Elena is not of that school of thought! She has a “yes” attitude – and when I came to America, I planned to meet her for a coffee to tell her that the project was too ambitious, we didn’t have enough time or resources, and House of Makers had to bow out. Of course, after one hour with Elena, I called my partners to report that we were embarking on this mission, and there was no other choice but to succeed in bringing this program to fruition.

 

AA: Is your work through House of Makers “anti” Dutch National Ballet?

 

PL: Matthew Sky, my partner at House of Makers, also has a background at the Dutch National Ballet, which means that we both come from strong aesthetic and classical ballet lines. We made the choice to be other, or not as classical, when we started House of Makers. When I say other I don’t just mean anti – it’s about ballet not sitting in its tradition and roots. I love the discipline but this new work is not about career building, it’s about self-building through the power of interdisciplinary growth.

 

AA: I understand the score was mostly finalized after you had already choreographed the performance. Is it typical to choreograph with no music?

 

PL: Not having music is definitely not typical, but it is not unique in my experience. Very often in my creative process I work with music in the post-production phase. I will choreograph a series of movements or feelings and then look for music from a diverse selection of genres. With the movements in mind, I will listen to Michael Jackson, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, the Twin Peaks soundtrack or electronic ambient sounds, and I look for landmarks in the music. It’s like being in a conversation with a stranger – you have no idea what the rhythm will be, what cadence, what tone the conversation will take when you are introduced. You are forced to adapt while it happens; as it evolves, so do you.

 

AA: And when the score was finished, the music was like nothing I had ever heard, but somehow had some familiar elements. How did that play a part in the choreography?

 

PL: The music was deconstructed classical music. It was Greig and Montiverde in 16-bar signatures, deconstructed and reconstructed by our resident musical genius. Although it was a brand new piece of music that was not necessarily rhythmic or with a traceable arc, it was on a loop, which made it repetitive, which helped massively.

 

AA: It seemed like the dancers were in sync, even though many parts of the performance were improvisational. How did you manage that?

 

We used a system we called Absolute Time. It basically added a much-needed timekeeping element. The structure was so free form, but also so dependent on exact timing for each portion, especially because the night consisted of a rotating presentation of live music, dance, and video installation. We asked ourselves, how do we make sure it is not a cacophony of sounds and images? How can we keep time, but also keep it a synchronized and submersive experience for the viewers? So we implemented this system, where I walked around the dancers with pieces of paper, at first in small increments of time, but eventually the dancers were able to keep the time on their own. It was like they could feel the ebb and flow even while they were creating.

 

AA: happy okay was a one-night event, a happening. Its sensation is rooted in its brevity. What do you hope are the long-term effects?

 

PL: Well, in the days after the performance, I received all of these messages, some from friends and many from strangers, all of whom had been in the room that night. Their reactions to the piece varied, some expressing a love for the experience, some simply said that it had been haunting them since they saw it – not that they necessarily loved it, but that it had stuck with them. That really struck me as important. I want people who experience happyokay to feel something, whether physical or emotional, good or bad.

Banksy Does New York

The Big Apple's Reaction to Britain's Most Infamous Street Artist

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The British street artist known as Banksy began what he called a month-long residency in New York City on October 1, 2013. Each day the graffiti artist, whose actual identity is unknown, would post hints on his website as to where the new work could be found, sparking a daily scavenger hunt through the streets of New York.

 

The event sparked controversy in the city: some viewed the work as desired decoration, while others considered it an illegal defiling of public and private property. When HBO asked filmmaker Chris Moukarbel make a documentary about the event, Banksy Does New York, he culled endless online footage shot of the event by fans, and conducted his own interviews, to piece together a vision of Banksy’s appeal.

 

Rob Feld: I wondered if going through all the fan-made internet footage crystallized for you anything about what makes Banksy a compelling figure?

 

Chris Moukarbel: He’s a populist artist. I think it’s always been part of his project to make his work as easily accessible and widely popular as possible. They’re like pop songs, structured to get the most attention and to be the most accessible, while contemporary art I don’t think is as interested in the wide audience. He’s coming from the background of street art so it’s not about the gallery or contemporary art world, it’s about the average person on the street and work that almost anyone can find some way to connect with.

 

RF: Was there a favorite piece of video that cracked open something for you?

 

CM: There is a couple, Julia and Kurt, who had the most comprehensive coverage because they really gave up the whole month and tracked Banksy every single day. They’re dog walkers by trade. Their YouTube videos only had a few views, so it was kind of an untapped archive that was essential for us in telling the story. We crowd-sourced a lot of footage, but because of the way they included themselves in their footage, and the way they were able to get to each piece, they became the most effective storytellers and the best characters for us to track. I enjoyed everything they were doing and their commentary is hilarious; they were really into it and you didn’t feel they were the least bit self-conscious about what they were doing.

 

RF: HBO approached you with the idea to do this, and at first Banksy’s people had nothing to do with it. At what point did you start to get some assistance?

 

CM: I’d say midway through the process. We already had a decent rough cut of the film and they had been asking to see it. They really just wanted to know what we were doing. I think they were a little bit suspicious that we were making some kind of exposé, or trying to unmask him. Once they saw a cut and realized that the focus was less on Banksy and more on New York, I think they were really into it. They were supportive and able to assist us in ways, like with video or clarifying certain points for the sake of accuracy.

“It’s not about the gallery or contemporary art world, it’s about the average person on the street and work that almost anyone can find some way to connect with.”

 

RF: There’s the story about his work, “The Banality of the Banality of Evil.” It seemed really useful to have their help there.

 

CM: The original painting that Banksy purchased for $50 at the Housing Works thrift store was a kitschy landscape. He painted a Nazi soldier sitting on a bench looking out into it, called it “The Banality of the Banality of Evil,” and then dropped it back at Housing Works. By adding his mark to it and signing it, the value skyrocketed and eventually it sold for over $600,000. It was interesting because it wasn’t just the gesture of changing the value of the work – “the banality of evil” is a reference to Hannah Arendt’s book about where evil actually resides, and how it doesn’t actually come from the top down. It is perpetuated by people just doing their jobs. Her conclusion was that in the example of Nazi Germany, so many people who had committed these horrendous crimes weren’t inherently evil or sociopathic people, they were people who were just taking orders and that’s actually the real crime: how people fail to think about their actions. That was the reference for Banksy – we’re all complicit in evil and there’s the potential for evil to happen everywhere, it wasn’t specific to that moment in German history. Its potential exists all over the world and can happen at any time. Banksy’s people gave us a photograph of the painting before he altered it, which we wouldn’t have had otherwise. By the time the work had any attention on it, it had already been altered.

 

RF: Do you have some sense of his reaction to the film?

 

CM: We were told that he really enjoyed it. Just the fact that he engaged in it at all sort of meant that he was giving us his blessing, to an extent. He wasn’t involved at all in making it but he seemed to be pleased with the outcome.

 

RF: For yourself, how do you parse out the issue of illegal graffiti versus public art?

 

CM: When the film premiered at the DOC NYS festival, people tittered as Mayor Bloomberg condemned the residency. But of course it is a real issue in that maybe some of us are okay with Banksy painting on walls because we think it’s clever, but if I were to go around painting on walls, I guarantee you it would be considered a nuisance.

 

RF: Where does street art begin and end?

 

CM: I think it’s interesting to look at the evolution of the aesthetic of graffiti. It did start out being something associated with crime and blight, and people were afraid of it. As urban space became more gentrified, that whole urban aesthetic also became gentrified and now you have luxury condos using street art to decorate their walls, paying street artists and graffiti artists to create that look so it feels “gritty” or “New York.” There’s the sanctioned side of it and there is still an unsanctioned, illegal graffiti culture that exists in New York. I’m personally grateful that it still does because, whether or not it’s legal, not all laws need to be respected all the time. There is something to be said for living in a world where people might bend the laws to create beautiful things or conversation. Maybe it’s illegal and frustrating to have your wall graffitied. At the same time, living in a city is frustrating and can also be hazardous, which is maybe one of the reasons why cities can still be fun and vital places.