Shane McCauley

5 Stories

Jim Shaw &
Daniel Guzmán

Artistic Revolution


The Mistake Room is a non-profit organization in downtown Los Angeles that functions as an international hub to commission artists, which for the most part live outside of the United States. In the organization’s first conversation series, Cesar Garcia, Founder, Director, and Chief Curator of The Mistake Room, sat down at NeueHouse Hollywood with artists Jim Shaw and Daniel Guzmán, who have both become pioneers of contemporary art in the United States and Mexico, respectively. Covering everything from music to collective creation, the artists offered an insider’s insight into what it was like to not only live through periods of artistic revolution, but also what it was like to be part of shaping its outcome.


Cesar Garcia: A few  months ago I was speaking with Danny Guzman and he said, “My ultimate dream would be to have a conversation with Jim Shaw,” so I sent an email and here we are! Thank you Jim and thank you Daniel for being with us tonight. I wanna start off by talking about your upbringing prior to art school, because both of your practices really merge together the historical and the biographical.


Jim Shaw: I grew up in Midland, Michigan which was the home of Dow Chemical until they merged with another chemical company and then it all fell apart. It was a nice little town to raise your kids, so it was boring. I think when you get a bunch of people with advanced college degrees a lot of them fall somewhere in the Autistic spectrum, and I’m probably a part of that spectrum. I had three older sisters who are all academically better than me, and parents who kind of withheld approval if you didn’t do well.


Artwork: Jim Shaw


When you have older sisters you don’t know how to be a boy, so I’ve always been intimidated by masculinity and entering that world was hard. I liked monster movies and comic books as a kid, but we also had The New Yorker and all these advertising materials, since my father was a package designer. There was also a pretty great modernist architect in town, Alden Dow, so there was always an exposure to good architecture and occasional art shows. When I first saw articles on Pop Art it was like a wonder world because I didn’t quite get cubism or abstract expressionism as a 10-year-old.


CG: What music did you listening to growing up?


Jim Shaw: Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, The Beatles, and the big Michigan bands – The Stooges, MC5, The SRC. My sister was roommates with some of the founders of the SDS when she was in University of Michigan back in the ’60s. When I was in ninth grade she had a protest poster that was reproduced in Life magazine, so that really impressed me. The Dow Chemical would have annual stockholder meetings, which out-of-town protesters would show up for, so we would go and hang out with them.


By the time I got to U of M the whole protesting thing was kind of winding down, but I remember how exciting it was to watch the Chicago Convention on TV as they were beating people up and being mean to people with long hair. During that time period there was a real cultural cohesion due to the draft and the Vietnam War, so as soon as they got rid of both of those things, it all dissipated into these separated units of people whose whole connection was that they smoked pot or had long hair; it no longer had the youth culture cohesion that it had. I came to California to go to CalArts just as people were starting to exit the States due to the failures of the American Auto industry.


CG: Daniel, you came of age in Mexico City in the ’70s and ’80s, which was also a very particular moment, as it was was after the 1968 student movement. Can you tell us about your upbringing during this time, where there was a huge cultural shift in music and literature?


Daniel Guzmán: I was born in the center of the city and lived with three sisters, as well as with my mother and grandmother; I had no men around except for my father and my uncles. I grew up in a working class neighborhood, so my experience was very different because I didn’t have a lot of education. My father, who is from Veracruz, and mother, who is from Oaxaca, are both working class – my mother is a secretary and my father worked in a factory, so I didn’t experience going to museums until I was almost 11 years old.


My father bought Mexican comics, superhero type stuff, and sports magazines, which I loved. My parents loved football and boxing and they also heard a lot of Mexican music and romantic music. I lived in a small collective space surrounded by similar spaces, so when we would play in the streets you could hear all different kinds of music, particularly romantic and tropical music. When I discovered rock n’ roll it was because a friend of mine had a big collection of The Beatles, Grand Funk Railroad.. especially of Grand Funk Railroad. It’s amazing because nobody wants a big collection of the Grand Funk, which is a band from Michigan.


I saw many popular Mexican movies about wrestling or comedies, and my father had a lot of love for James Bond, so I got to see all of those with him, as well as Beatles things. In Mexico, on Saturdays, you could buy one ticket and stay all day at the cinema, which was great because they projected many movies and you could see as many as you wanted.


Artwork: Daniel Guzmán


There were only two art schools in Mexico, so I decided to go to the University of Mexico (UNAM), which is the oldest university in the city. It was a really different world for me because I found this relation and connection to music and literature. I was really lonely during that time, so I read a lot, especially fiction. In school, I discovered a lot of authors, like Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, and Julio Cortázar.


CG: After 1968 there was a huge countercultural movement in Mexico City as a result of the protests against the government, ten days before the summer Olympics, which resulted in a brutal and grotesque student massacre. Those were the same Olympic games during which Tommie Smith gave the black power salute, and there was a huge shift – particularly amongst the youth. Were you aware at the time of the extent of events happening in the country?


DG: Not really. For me, the political experience was different because in my house we never talked about politics. On the other hand, I was lucky because the friends I made in art school had a lot more experience with that kind of stuff, so they showed me the things I hadn’t seen at home…books and other media about the political movement in Mexico.


CG: You both had really interesting and formative experiences in school. Jim, you were at CalArts when people like John Baldessari, Laurie Anderson, and Douglas Huebler were teaching. How important was that particular time period in the formation of your practice and the friendships and communities that formed outside of school?


JS: I remember in the 70s there was a new car factory that was opened in Ohio. They had all these college educated line workers who went on strike, and I think that’s the moment when the power structure decided, “We made college way too affordable. We gotta start making it harder to get a college degree because it’s a waste of money to give a degree to someone who’s going to be working in an auto factory.” But at the time I went to school, it was relatively affordable. University of Michigan was $600 a semester, and now it’s about $23,000…and that’s a state school.


I was supposed to go to Cooper Union in 1970, but I freaked out in New York City because they didn’t have student housing, and I had no friends there…so I went to a junior college back home for a year and a half, and then U of M, where I met Mike [Kelley] and the other members of Destroy All Monsters. It was the first time I met an adult and functioning artist whose work I liked and could understand, because the work of most of the artists, except for [Gerome] Kamrowski and a couple other people at U of M, was kinda depressing. It wasn’t something that made you want to go out and be an artist and be part of an art world; but there wasn’t really an art world then. Nobody was getting paid to sell art, so we didn’t have any expectations. Life was cheap. You got out of school and you could get a cheap job and live for cheap in L.A.


Seeing Laurie Anderson and some of the artwork of the artists that taught at CalArts was important. Baldessari was important because he basically let the students do all the talking. And then you got out of school and you hung out with these people because who else did you know? It was a place where everybody was broke and we’d find some part of the film industry to work in.


Once Reagan came in, things started changing. There were a few bums downtown before Reagan came in, and then suddenly there were just encampments of homeless people from closed down mental hospitals. Then other things happened; they started sending work to other countries – first down south, then further south to Mexico, and then finally to China.


CG: Daniel, you also had an interesting and almost similar experience, when you were at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In the late 80s and early 90s there were a group of artists there who have now become common names in the international circuit, like Gabriel Kuri, Damian Ortega, and Abraham Cruzvillegas, who were getting together with Gabriel Orozco every Friday to have an informal workshop where they were looking at literature, reading critical theory, and looking at music that was not being taught in the university curriculum. What was your experience in school like?


DG: Staying in school was great, because I found a new world where I could relate to young people. I didn’t see a “career” in front of me at the moment, only the opportunity to share music, books, and experiences about life with people I found in school. With Abraham Cruzvillegas, Damian Ortega, and other young artists, we founded an artist space in Mexico City, called Temistocles 44. It was a run down house in a really rich neighborhood in Mexico that woman shared with us for free. We worked there for four years, inviting many young artists of all mediums who would make special projects. We shared this opportunity to have an independent space and opening the door to different experiences.


CG: In the early art years of Mexico City there were a lot of these communal establishments for artists, which became precursors to a lot of the more popular spaces available now. Was that always a way of working for you?


DG: Yes, because I feel isolated when I do my personal work, and I felt alone in my career at that time. I was really lucky to find other people who had a similar interest to share space and knowledge to make art. That was the reason to make the collective.


CG: The drawings in both of your practices have a really interesting connective thread, in that they both bring together history, biography, music, literature, and religious and spiritual beliefs into an assembled universe. They introduce us to very complex narratives and characters that sometimes recur in other bodies of work. What role does drawing play in the studio and in your practices?


JS: It’s pretty much the basis for everything I work on, except for music. If I’m going to do a painting, I have to do a drawing beforehand. When I’m working on pre-existing theatrical backdrops I can’t make too many mistakes, so I have to know what I’m doing beforehand. I’m also a perfectionist, which is too bad, but, I used to do a lot of large drawings. I don’t know if my body can take that anymore with pencil. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with ink, like this last cartoon piece, and getting into the whole difference because I’m so used to using shaded drawing in pencil. To do things in ink, to simplify forms, to tell the story as easily as possible, is a whole different ball game, but I’m sort of using the DC comics of my youth as a model – the work of people like Wayne Borring and Dick Spring.


Artwork: Jim Shaw


DG: When I was in school I had a teacher who showed me many crafters like Rembrandt and Matisse. When I discovered drawing I really loved it. I didn’t have the passion, at the time, to paint, because I didn’t have the compatible materials to prepare for a painting. On one occasion my friend Abraham Crurvillegas, asked me what I did as a child. I told him I made copies of my father’s comics, and he told me, “Maybe you can recover all of these activities…this past is your personal heritage. This is a part of you.” When I was in school the teacher told me to forget about what I was doing before and start from zero. But when I stopped to recover my past of drawing, I also recovered the comfort and the joy of it.


CG: Where does text come into your drawings?


JS: I’ve been a little fearful of text because I understood I wasn’t the best writer in the world. Doing the comic books is a way of forcing me into coming up with a storyline, and then characters start to form.


CG: Do you think drawing is still a viable medium?


JS: It’s gotta be. It’s the easiest thing to produce. You can make it anywhere.


DG: I think that’s right; you can draw on whatever paper you want. When you buy tortillas in Mexico they give them to you wrapped in a very rough, cheap paper, and I would draw on it because I loved it and it was accessible. I know the way paper works with different drawing materials, and I had a marvelous relation with that paper because of the heritage of my Mexican culture. For me, drawing is one of the best experiences in order to connect with life.


Artwork: Daniel Guzmán


CG: What does the production process look like in your studios?


JS: I’ve got an assistant who traces stuff, and paints things white, and does the simple stuff, while I do all the rendering stuff, for the most part. Once I get in front of the painting or the drawing, it’s as if the world disappears and I get sucked into it. If I didn’t have deadlines I’d overwork everything to death. The thing about making music is I’m a terrible musician and I have to collaborate. I have an over-educated wrist, so I can draw and paint pretty much whatever I feel like, but with music it’s a whole other world.


DG: In the studio, I work alone and make almost everything. I share technical problems with a school friend of mine and he helps me come up with a solution, but in the drawings, I do everything. For me, with my band creating is totally different and collaborative, which is kind of a liberation from my personal activity. I have no responsibilities because we share all of the responsibilities together. When we’re playing on stage, it’s a completely different experience, and I’m really in another world. I feel free.


You mentioned the collective. The collective is more about making art. It’s a shared responsibility to create a new world, and it’s an anonymous thing.


CG: The work you’ve produced functions as a really interesting portrait of the underbelly of society, in many ways. There are a lot of human fears, desires, and anxieties identified within both of your work. I think it would be a missed opportunity if I didn’t ask what you think about the current polarized state of this country.


JS: Well you know, I’m a baby boomer from the midwest, so I can understand where all these people who are voting for Trump are coming from. All these people who entered the workforce were supposed to have a job that lasted until they were 65, and then they were going to retire to something nice, but if you lose your job now in your 50s or 60s, you’re sort of shit out of luck.


A lot of people are blaming Mexico or illegal and undocumented aliens for their lack of a job, which is absurd, because they’re doing the jobs that nobody else wants to do, like field and agrarian work. The world has also become totally dominated by white European stock. There was a change in immigration law in the 1960s, where they allowed Europeans to immigrate here before changing it to allow the whole world an immigration opportunity. The face of the nation has changed ever since then, and they haven’t gotten used to that.


I’ve lived in basically Mexican migrant areas most of my time in Los Angeles. As far as Trump goes, I’d be more scared by a Cruz presidency, personally. I don’t really think he means everything he says, but it’s crazy. I was really shocked that he hasn’t dropped out, because he did the last time he ran. He seems like Sarah Palin; he doesn’t really want to work that hard, but he loves getting all the attention.


CG: Daniel, from somebody who lives in Mexico, what do you think?


DG: It’s strange, because a big part of the population in Mexico aren’t well informed about who Donald Trump is or what the reasons are for his ideas about Mexican people occupying the workplaces. I think it’s a dangerous thing, because you see a lot of news outlets and media who don’t have hard information to share with the people, and so there is a degree of not taking people like Trump seriously.


Photography: Shane McCauley for NeueJournal 

The Campaign Trail

Chelsea Clinton, Lena Dunham, & America Ferrera
Discuss Hillary's Journey


With the presidential primaries in full swing, the political discourse of 2016 is one of the most talked about everyday topics, and for good reason. With candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, for the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, respectively, setting a frontrunner status for their parties, the impending election will be one of the United States’ most memorable ones in history. Ahead of the California primary, which will happen on June 7th, Chelsea Clinton, America Ferrera, and Lena Dunham, took the stage at NeueHouse Hollywood to individually state their public support for the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton while highlighting some of the politician’s most memorable and progressive administrative actions.


America Fererra: Thank you so much for being here with us. My name is America Ferrera. I am a first generation American. I am a female millennial voter, and I’m not only voting for Hillary, but I really like her. She’s the kind of woman I want to share a bottle of wine with, or I could drink most of it…she’s kind of busy these days. But I really heart Hillary – maybe it’s because I was raised by a single mother who did the hard and unglamorous and grueling work of providing for her six children, which is how I have come to recognize and admire women like Hillary, who have showed up day in and day out for the promise of unsexy, slow-going, and hard won progress. So yeah, I would totally Netflix and chill with Hillary.


Maybe it’s because I’m an American Latina, who has experienced first-hand so many of the inequities that children and families from communities of color face in this country; The kind of inequities that Hillary has spent her entire career trying to understand and change. Even before the Latino vote was crucial to elections, Hillary held the first-ever White House convening on Hispanic children and youth when she was first lady. She fought for early childhood education, so that a kid like me, growing up in the Los Angeles Unified Public Schools, didn’t fall behind in her education before she even got the chance to get started.


Another thing I like about Hillary is that she doesn’t waste time licking wounds. When her first healthcare reform failed in 1994 she didn’t disappear, she got right back up and found a way to get democrats and republicans to at least agree on getting healthcare to 8 million children. We know by now that she doesn’t give up a fight, and she also knows not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. As a long time ally in the battle for comprehensive immigration reform, Hillary co-sponsored Ted Kennedy’s immigration bill, which Bernie Sanders claimed would have created second class citizens in this country, but it’s really important that we set the record straight: there already exist second-class citizens in this country. They are hard working immigrants who contribute to our society, and whose status allows others to exploit them; from wage theft, to sexual assault, to being denied bottled water in Flint, Michigan. Undocumented people in this country are willing to do back-breaking jobs, under no protection, and with no recourse, so that their children might have a chance at a better future. And they might be willing to accept that, but we as Americans cannot accept the reality that a lower-class human being exists in this country. So while our inadequate immigration system has been turned into a hyper-politicized conversation, there is a humanitarian crisis growing, and in the 21st century our policies should be sophisticated enough to address it.


We need a president who is willing to take on this challenge, and who knows and has proven that she can work with republicans and democrats. We have to pass an immigration law that recognizes the humanity of over 11 million undocumented people in this country, one that remembers that every single non-Native American family in this country came here with hopes of a better life, and that hope is not illegal or criminal. That hope is called the American dream. Our families didn’t come to this country to solve the immigration crisis, we came here to thrive, to get educations, to start businesses, to contribute. Even before the Latino vote was desirable, Hillary stood for all of the issues that greatly impact all of our communities, from access to healthcare, higher education, reproductive rights, and support for small businesses. Hillary has made slow and steady progress on these issues, and I am fully aware that the words slow and steady are not exciting, especially in contrast to those calling for a revolution in this country. But many of our families fled countries where dismantled systems made room for tyranny and violence.


We don’t need a revolution in this country, we need an evolution, and I think Hillary is the one to take us there. I think that’s possible, and maybe it’s because I’ve come to see with my own eyes how women are underrepresented, disadvantaged, and exploited globally, from the halls of power in this country to back alleys and red light districts in India, to poor villages in Honduras where women are murdered, raped, and trafficked as if they were objects and not human beings. Before girl power was a hashtag, Hillary Clinton fought the unpopular fight. She defended women here at home and around the world. She dared demand that women’s rights be seen as human rights. And she traveled the world as Secretary of State, insisting that world leaders include women in their country’s economic and security plans.


I think it’s pretty awesome that Hillary Clinton is a woman, but if you could show me a purple faced, three-eyed sexless Martian with a better record on defending women’s rights and fighting for the most vulnerable children and families, then I would be out there campaigning for that Martian. But that is why I am here today for Hillary. Now I’ll turn it over to someone who is an inspiration to so many of us, and who, at such a young age, has found a way to use her voice and her platform for the things that matter to her, and that takes courage and bravery. It’s my honor to be on this stage today to introduce to you Lena Dunham.


Lena Dunham: It’s so exciting to be here with a group of people who are campaigning so forcefully for our first woman president, but I do have to say that I feel I am sharing the stage with two women who are definitely qualified to be the second and the third, in whatever order they should choose to take that on. It’s an amazing honor to be here with my friends and my compatriots. America prepared and delivered a great speech that I think really ran the gamut and showed you just how important this election is.


When I hit the campaign trail I had a speech that I delivered like a thousand times, and now I think I finally feel ready to talk from a slightly more organic place. I’m going to start off by saying that I think my support for Hillary Clinton can really be seen through my response to my Instagram comments. When I first made it clear that I was voting for and campaigning for Hillary, this sort of vitriol started. The fact that other members of the democratic party have spoken to me like I was an ill-informed child for voting for someone who represents everything that I think this country should be, is outrageous. I’m sorry to be so emotional, but to be told by people who supposedly share your values and your goals, that the choice you’re making comes from a limited understanding of feminism and a limited understanding of your own needs is wrong.


We’re all playing the same game here, so I’m not out to talk shit about your candidate, and you’re not out to talk shit about mine, but clearly that option is off the table now. But I reached my tipping point last week when I received a comment from someone who obviously had no avatar, because he doesn’t want me to see his face, that said Bernie Sanders has done more for feminism than Hillary Clinton ever has…and I lost my freaking mind. Before that, I was all about, “Yes, I’m so happy that you have the right to vote for who you want and me for who I want, and we both have two qualified candidates,” but we don’t have two qualified candidates. The idea that the woman who stepped into the White House when I was six years old and made me think that it was possible to live the life I wanted, and say the things I believed in, has somehow not done enough for women in her career is so offensive to the core of my being that I should probably stop talking now, because I’m going to turn into a shaking ogre monster.


This is the person who, after a successful law career, redefined our idea about what a First Lady could be, and redefined my sense of what a successful woman’s role could be. I’ve said this before, but I wrote an entire term paper on the conversation around the tea and cookies comment in third grade. This was pre-internet, so my mom had to go to the library, get clipping, it was a whole situation. This is the same person who, as senator, revamped the way we respond to rape cases in the ER, and who then as Secretary of State, took on not just women’s rights in America, but women’s rights globally, and who literally coined the term “women’s rights are human rights.” But somehow we are so deep into the psychology of villainizing successful women that this is the person who we’re going to turn into the enemy of our country? And that is personal for me, and it never won’t be personal for me – but the fact is that politics are allowed to be personal. To ask me as a feminist and sexual assault survivor to separate my identity from the candidate that I’m voting for is not just unfair, it’s ignorant.


When I’m told that I’m voting for her only because she’s female and I’m female, I’m like, if that was the case, I would be out campaigning for Carly Fiorina. I think it’s amazing how often I’m asked to list the litany of non-women’s rights reasons why I’m voting for Hillary, and I’m lucky enough that I had the opportunity to sit down with her and talk about issues relating to systemic racism in our country, college debt, the healthcare reform, how we’re going to deal with the issues that America talked about. I am sitting before you as a voter who is fully informed and excited about her approach to all of that, and who’s also pretty excited that she’s a woman. All that can exist together, and it doesn’t mean that we’re using our vaginas to vote for the president, which is the most insane concept. It means that we feel connected to the identity of the person that we’re voting for, and that is a beautiful thing.


I could rage out at you all evening, but I just want to say that I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have a conversation and also I’m kind of done with being polite about this. If people want to ask questions about why we’re with her, we want to answer those, but we also want to make it clear that this, for me, has never been an issue about voting for the candidate who I think can beat the bad guy. For me, it’s voting for the candidate I’ve been dreaming of my entire life, since she first stepped onto the stage when I was 6 years old. With that, I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce someone who I’ve come to consider a friend, who is so inspiring in her commitment, not just to what I think is right in this world, but also to helping people really understand her mother – not just as a candidate, but as a person. Without further ado, Chelsea Clinton.


Chelsea Clinton: I am incredibly grateful to be here with America and Lena, and to be here with all of you. I’m also grateful that we are sitting, not standing, because I am pregnant. Not surprisingly, this election is personal for me as well. It is personal in the sense that I am incredibly proud and grateful to be my mother’s daughter, and I certainly make no apology for being very biased toward her. But it is really personal for me, as well, because I’m a mom. I didn’t know that I could care any more about politics or who was running for or holding political office until my husband, Mark and I, decided to start a family. I found I actually could care even more about politics, and that surprised me, because I grew up going to events like this.


In fact, I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t at a political rally, or an organizing event, or volunteering in a campaign for my dad when he was running for governor, or for whomever my parents were supporting, or running, of course, as a democratic party standard bearer in a presidential year like this one. And yet I found that, because I’m now a mom, I see everything through the prism of what I think is right and best, and what I want most for my children and their generation – and I found that I could actually care even more intensely and urgently about politics. So I’m really grateful that for all of you it’s personal too, otherwise you wouldn’t be here on a Sunday evening with us.


I think every one of us probably has reasons, similar or maybe very different, from those that America and Lena shared about why they’re each supporting my mom. I want to tell you why I’m supporting my mom. The first point I want to pick up on is one that America made when she talked about my mom’s commitment reform, because I remember 1993 and 1994, when we had just moved into the White House. I was transitioning to a new school and I was nervous and apprehensive of what that would be like. I remember most of our conversations over dinner were about healthcare reform. I remember my mom working so hard on healthcare reform, and, as America said, it failed. And I remember how bruising the whole experience was when the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries spent literally tens of millions of dollars to defeat my mother’s efforts, because a lot of it was actually personally targeted toward my mother. She was sort of the “villain” of the piece, so she could’ve given up, but she didn’t. I think that reveals a lot about my mom – that she’s always focused on how to make real change that really matters.


Just like in the early 1990s, Republicans control congress today, and that’s not expected to change in this election or in the next election. We have to deal with political realities as we find them, and not as we wish they were. I think it’s important to know what America said about my mom’s work with Republicans and Democrats on healthcare reform and creating the children’s health insurance program, wasn’t a one-off. She worked with Republicans to overhaul adoption out of the foster care system. There are now 80% more young people adopted out of the foster care system than there were 15 years ago. I think that should matter. That she worked with Republicans to extend the VA system to cover all of our national guards, men and women, when they come home from serving our country overseas. I would hope that would matter to people. She worked with Republicans to double funding for early head start programs in childhood education and then worked with Republicans to protect that funding, when other Republicans wanted to cut it. I think it should matter that she knows how to find common ground. And yet, I think it’s also important that she knows how to stand her ground.


And if there’s any doubt as to why that should matter in this election, I think you’d just have to look at the Republicans on any given day. You laugh, but this is a really serious point. I think the almost normalization of hate speech, the sexism, the racism, the Islamophobia, the homophobia, the anti-immigrant rhetoric, the rhetoric against Americans with disabilities. I mean the list just goes on and on. So, it matters that we have a president who knows how to make government work on behalf of our values when in office and when out of office.


I hope we always have a Democratic president, and therefore a Democratic Secretary of State, but I don’t want to bet our values on it. It matters that you know we don’t live in a single issue country, which we’re seeing right now through the prism of what’s happening with the Supreme Court since the passing of Justice Scalia. We see that in the recalcitrant, and I would argue, constitutional opposition, coming out of the senate right now, to even the idea that President Obama has nominated someone to fill Justice Scalia’s seat. And yet, if you listen to my mother’s opponent, he talks about the Supreme Court mainly through the lens of campaign finance reform, and campaign finance reform is hugely important. We have to remove the equations of money, speech, corporation, and person that are codified in Citizens United, and yet, I think it’s hard to argue my mom doesn’t have a personal and ethical interest in this because Citizens United was an organization set up with one purpose – to derail her 2008 presidential campaign. I think she was the first person, who’s running for president, to come out against the case shortly after the Supreme Court released its verdict a few years ago. For her, it’s also personal to see that Citizens United is not remembered in the angles of history, but she knows the court is important for so much more.


If you care about voting rights, you have to care about the Supreme Court. If you care about climate change, you have to care about the Supreme Court. If you care about gun control, you have to care about the Supreme Court. If you care about a woman’s right to choose, you care about women’s healthcare, you care about equity – because wealthy women in our country have always had choices – you have to care about the Supreme Court. If you care about equal rights, you have to care about the Supreme Court. We do not live in a single issue country, and we cannot afford to have a president who thinks that we do.


And yes, it does matter to me that my mom has been engaged in the fights that Lena and America and I have talked about, many for longer than all three of us have been alive. I think that it should matter what someone has done. I hope that it will matter here, when you vote on June 7th, because I think it’s really important that California sends a signal about what you care about, about what you want for your futures, what you want for the country that you want grow old in, the country that you want your children to grow up in. And I would also say to those of you who have Republican friends, please talk to them about what’s at stake in the Republican primary as well, because I don’t think any of us have the option to be both citizens and on the sidelines. There is too much at stake and I think this is the most important presidential election of my lifetime.


I couldn’t agree with Lena more; I think it’s important we remain polite and civil while we can be, although I recognize we all get pushed to our limits, but I think it’s important that we always engage. We cannot ignore what is happening right now in our country, and we cannot expect it to go away without each and every one of us standing up to the sexism, the racism, the homophobia, the Islamophobia, the anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s not the country that we want to live in, but if we don’t fight for the country that we do want to live in, we have to hold ourselves accountable. So clearly, we’re all passionate on this stage for our own personal reasons about this campaign and about my mom, and as I think you heard both in what America and Lena said, we also know that we’re not alone. We’re grateful, again, to all of you who’ve come out this evening.


Portrait Photography: Shane McCauley for NeueJournal


Adam Grant
& Ed Helms

The Value of Innovation


Adam Grant’s new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, is an explorative testament of how innovative thinkers are the shapers of society. It’s fitting, then, that the author and esteemed Professor at Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania was paired in conversation at NeueHouse Hollywood with one of comedy’s most innovative actors, Ed Helms. With roles like Andy Bernard in The Office and Stu Price in The Hangover, Helms has established himself as a cult comedian, with a sense of humor that is both sharp, honest, and, at times, awkward. Using the theme of original thinkers in Grant’s book as a thread, the author and Helms discussed the value of innovation, the pursuit of comedy, and the fear of originality in Hollywood – all while keeping the crowd laughing.


Ed Helms: What is it that fascinates you about this subject matter, about originals? Well first of all, define “originals.”


Adam Grant: It’s people, like you, who could have stable careers and safe and secure lives and instead choose to do something different.


EH: I’m not in the book though, there is nothing about me in it.


AG: The second printing will feature some of the quotes from tonight if all goes as planned.


EH: Do you consider yourself someone who took an unusual course as well? Is there some kind of self examination as part of it?


AG: I was the opposite of an original as a kid. I cried when I got called to the Principal’s office once. In college I had these friends who refused to drink alcohol with me, but they ended up drinking, and I was not ok with that. Then I chose the one job where no one can fire you no matter how dumb you are. So I kind of played it safe my whole life.


EH: Wow. Sounds like you are kind of an outlier in the other direction, like an original in how insanely conformist you somehow are.


AG: What is interesting about this to me is there are tons of people who have great ideas and don’t act on them because they’re afraid of looking like idiots. Look around the room and spot the most paranoid person and then point at that person for me. Some of you will point at yourselves right? I think a lot of us, when we have really original ideas, are like, “Oh my god, somebody is going to ruin my entire career if I speak up about this.” I think that is a travesty and I would love to see more people champion their ideas; which is really why I wrote the book.


EH: That’s an interesting conundrum because Hollywood is a town so driven by fear, which seems to be one of the great enemies of originality – and yet some people emerge. I feel like there are just a few creative voices in Hollywood who set these standards and the rest of us are just lemmings chasing after that.


AG: What makes people so afraid of doing something original? The whole point of Hollywood coming out with new shows and new movies is to do something that hasn’t been done before. So why do so few people do it?


EH: I think there’s a lot of infrastructure in place that just crushes it. There are a lot of gatekeepers who, unfortunately, have kind of risen or been elevated by being very conventional and signing up for the status quo, and they’re scared to jeopardize themselves. It’s kind of a merciless industry in that your last thing is really the only thing people remember, and if you’re really putting stuff out there you’re going to fail a bunch. It does seem like we are sort of in an originality quagmire in Hollywood. Right? Let me ask you this, since it’s what everyone in this room is wondering: what can you do for our careers?


AG: I got you this gig, so…I mean, it’s not like you have a lot of work right now. Captain Underpants.


EH: Yeah. That’s going to be a game changer. I’m playing Captain Underpants in the  Dreamworks animation movie, but it’s actually a six hour character study. It’s going to be very cool.


Let’s talk about some of the things that come up in the book. One thing I thought was really cool – and a little bit terrifying – is you used the TV show Seinfeld as a case study of people doing something very original and an establishment (that being NBC’s programming department at the time) having no interest in airing the show. One of the really fascinating things is that focus groups were so wrong about the show, which is insane; but you sort of punch a hole in focus groups. Could this be the nail in the coffin we are all begging for so we’re not submitted to them anymore?


AG: I think if we talk about this too much people won’t read the book. But I’m okay with that, because when you know an author you should never read anything they write, you should just ask them about it.


So, Seinfeld. If you go back and read the report, it’s amazing. It says not only is it a weak pilot, it’s a weak weak pilot and nobody in the test audience had any interest in ever watching the show again. Most of the NBC executives agreed. It’s a show about nothing, non of the plot lines get resolved, and this doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen in comedy before. But there’s this one guy, Rick Ludwin, who later saved The Office and doesn’t even work in comedy, he’s in variety and specials. He’s like, “You know this show made me laugh and I don’t care that it’s not an original sitcom. I’m going to take my budget and funnel it over.” He really stuck his neck out and went to bat for it. Were you on The Office yet when he stuck up for it?


EH: No, I joined on the third season and then it was well established at that point.


AG: You rejuvenated it. I have a really hard time not calling you Andy Bernard.


EH: So does my wife.


AG: But The Office went through a really similar trajectory. Very unusual format, and a lot of people didn’t appreciate it. What was it that made it work and allowed at least a few executives to say, “We want to bet on this?”


EH: I think it’s just a damn funny show. I say that with humility, because you’re talking about before I was on it. I think the first season was just incredible. It’s a tribute to Steve [Carrell] and the core original writing staff who I think created something so special. And of course, it goes back to Ricky Gervais and the world that he created with the British Office.


Why is it funny? I don’t know. My parents are horrified by it. It’s really interesting how the older generation cannot find humor in awkward interaction. It’s so painful for my mom to watch The Office because she’s so – and I say this with love – repressed. Expressing awkwardness or steeping in an awkward moment and finding humor in it…not possible for that generation. The Office was early on the curve of shows that really celebrated intense awkwardness and intense social miscues.


AG: How do people go from, “alright I have this vision for a joke” to what we actually saw?


EH: Well I wasn’t a writer on the show, but I did spend a bunch of time during my first couple of seasons in the writers room, and I’ve worked in other writer’s rooms. It’s a very beautiful collaborative thing and depends a lot on the leadership.


Sometimes it can be a very toxic and competitive environment, but I’ve been so lucky to work on the Daily Show and on The Office, which were creative environments that weren’t perfect, but had a real communal mission to get the funniest thing on the air. It’s sort of a group hatching of an idea or an episode or a joke, and then it’ll usually get assigned to a writer, who fleshes it out. Then it gets brought back to the group and gobbled up and barfed back out as beautiful shiny vomit. Are there any TV writers in the room? No? Good. Then I’m exactly right. What else we got?


AG: I want to know more about how you went down this original path. We talked about you being the youngest of three and comedy being the only thing you could do. What happened to all the other options?


EH: There’s a part in your book which talks about comedians in particular, and this was an interesting thing, because of course I desperately want to think of myself as this original…as the star of your book basically. So I’m reading it with just the ultimate confirmation bias rolling through, like, “hey that’s me!” There were some bullet points that really stacked up and one of them is birth order – I’m the third in my family and 60% of comedians are late in the birth order. Or is it more?


AG: I don’t know, I made up the statistics. No, the Comedy Central 100 greatest stand-up comedians are more than twice as likely to be born last in their family. The odds of that happening by chance are 2 in a million, so there’s something to this last born comedian thing. What is it?


EH: Last borns are a little bit of peacemakers. There’s a lot of adult behavior going on around you and humor is a wonderful way to deflect tension. I think also by the time I came around my parents were so parented out that, in the best way, they just didn’t give a shit about me. Humor became a way to be like, “Hey I’m over here too, I just threw up on myself…”


AG: So that is the parental freedom side of it. What about this story that says it’s really hard to be smarter and stronger than your older siblings but, without even meaning to, you can be funnier than them. Like your one year old and you do something that makes everyone laugh and then you learn this is the way that I get attention. Is this why you like attention?


EH: Oh god…let’s get into it. Comedy almost invariably comes from a very unique place that in itself is not very funny, like troubling family histories. Being surrounded by comedians most of my adult life, I’ve seen and experienced things that make me think, “of course you’re a comedian,” and of course even in my own life. It’s a coping mechanism, but in general being funny or trying to be funny is a coping mechanism. What I can never get is why people have to be comedians…I don’t get myself is what I’m saying! I am looking to you for answers – explain me!


AG: I’m not that kind of psychologist, sorry.


EH: When I was like ten years old I watched SNL and remember being like, “that’s it, that’s what I want to do.” It was Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo and all those guys.


AG: Usually when someone says they wanna be a comedian their parents make them think about something else to do. How did you stay on this course?


EH: I grew up in the South. My parents were very progressive, but also had a lot of cultural expectations they placed on us in a kind of Upper Middle class family, like going to college. My dad was a lawyer and he wanted me to be lawyer, so the way I dealt with that was to just not tell them. I never shared my ambitions and I would update them after I had accomplished something. I knew they wouldn’t really back it up unless I could prove it.


AG: So your a cappella session was like a cover for comedy.


EH: Ok, I’m gonna tamp this down right away. The Ed Helms a cappella session is a myth.


AG: I read it on Wikipedia, it has to be true.


EH: Oh, then I stand corrected. I was in an a cappella group for one semester in Oberlin College in Ohio. I was in the Oberlin Overtones for the second semester of my freshman year and I didn’t like it so I stopped. However, Andy Bernard came along and right out of the gate the writers were like, this is one of his defining characteristics – he loves a cappella. So I was able to tap into all the things that had driven me to join the a cappella. I’m so grateful to have set the record straight. What were we talking about?


AG: No idea. I want to go back to confirmation bias. I think it’s the two words I’ve heard you use the most often in all the time we’ve known each other, and I want to know if you have like a meta-confirmation bias where you see confirmation bias everywhere.


EH: Absolutely. I think once you learn about confirmation bias it is a self-fulfilling prophecy and you see it everywhere. I really love the world view that you’re putting out there in your books because it just lines up with the way I wanna see the world. It kind of advocates a way of moving within the world that is being transparent, having integrity, being open to criticism, and being a giving person. Did confirmation bias drive some of your conclusions in wanting to reaffirm and reinforce this awesome world view you have and are putting out there?


AG: I think it did! I went to the first publisher with what was called The Rise of Good-zilla – it was the actual title, I kid you not. Someone who did not make it through one of my classes had drawn a picture of Godzilla with a Superman cape and I was desperately motivated to show that generous people could achieve great things, but the data didn’t really support that. There were all these helpful people who were kind of treated like how Andy Bernard got treated in The Office and it was really sad. But then I realized there is this side that says helping others can be good for you, and there is this other side that says you can be a pushover and other people will screw you over. I think once both got represented I was comfortable it wasn’t just confirmation bias.


EH: Would what would you say is the percentage of takers vs givers in the top tier of successful people?


AG: It’s really hard to know because we can’t trust people’s own judgements. How many of you think you are givers? Alright and how many of you think you are givers but didn’t raise your hands because you know it violates modesty? Ok, those are the real givers in the rear because no actual giver would be like, “Look how generous I am!”


EH: No boo I disagree, I’m honest…I’m guilty of honesty, sorry!


AG: We can’t trust your own judgment, and we can’t really get other people to report on you honestly because they are biased. It seems like in Hollywood there are three givers who no one has ever heard of. Why is that?


EH: Givers are like alligator food here, they are just devoured and chewed up and spit out. It’s disheartening. I think it’s hard to be a giver in Hollywood and I think your book does a good job of explaining how you can do that. A cool thing about Originals – it also has a section which helps the reader understand what they can do in their own lives to foster original thinking in themselves and in people around them. I was really fascinated by one of the episodes in your book about non-Jewish people who risked their lives to save Jewish people during the Holocaust. You compare them to the neighbors who didn’t do anything to save Jewish people and what the differences were between their upbringing.


As a future parent, it’s compelling and a little bit terrifying, but also very exciting, to understand ways we can parent that might really foster original thinking. It comes down to valuing character and being the person who has a core set of values, versus being the person who just does the right thing by an arbitrary standard. And those are the kids raised in Germany during the Holocaust; the non-Jewish people who were raised to have a sort of core conviction of what is right and wrong vs always following the rules.


AG: I can’t help but reflect on my own childhood, because after reading the chapter about parenting my mom told me she got everything right. I was reminded of how growing up she told me no matter what grade I got in school, as long as I tried my hardest, she would always be proud of me. And then she would always add that if I didn’t get an A she would know I hadn’t tried my hardest. At the time it was a little bit depressing but I learned she was making me feel guilty, and we all know guilt is the gift that keeps giving. Most people think Jews and Catholics have a monopoly guilt, but I really found it useful – and this is a lot of what happened with these Holocaust rescuers. Their parents were constantly asking them, “what kind of impact do you want to have on other people?” and, “when you steal a toy how do you think it makes your neighbor feel?” There is guilt in that, there is empathy in that, and then it’s a lot harder to just sit there and watch other people become victims of horrible atrocities.


EH: Those kinds of questions from parents also address the child’s identity more than their behavior, and I thought it’s interesting how, as you note, we tend to reward children for sharing. We say “great job sharing this toy,” and that has less of an impact than to say to your child, “I am proud of you for being a person who shares,” because then it becomes about an identity they can strive for, as opposed to a behavior they are rewarded for.


There’s a lot more in the book about the workplace and how to get the people who are working for you to crack the whip. Why are there no business books about how to be the best office drone and find tons of fulfillment and affirmation in that? It’s all about leadership! Some of us are sheep, man, what do we do? There’s this study of corporate success that fetishizes leadership. Business school is about training leaders, but that’s 99% of the jobs out there, so what’s out there for the 99%? What are you doing for them?


AG: I’m distracted by the sinking realization that you actually read the book. Actually, for those of you who were undergraduates in my classroom, I do not believe in undergraduate business education. I think it’s a terrible idea and a great way to create lots of ambitious drones. I think we focus too much on leadership early, but for MBA students…if they’re gonna go and ruin the world they might as well know how to do it well.


EH: Why do you think our political system makes originality so hard? Why does a democracy that is supposed to reward the best ideas time and time again just elevates mediocracy?


AG: Winston Churchill put it best. I’m not sure how drunk he was when he said this but he said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”. It’s not like democracy is a great idea but it’s the best alternative. Plato said we should have a bunch of philosopher kings running the world and common folk shouldn’t be allowed to vote, which is not exactly a popular idea today. But admittedly I would love to see a knowledge test where you have to show that you know who the candidates are and what they stand for before you’re allowed to register your vote in the United States. What do you think?


EH: Then Ted Cruz would literally be the only person voting. But I wonder why Washington D.C. and Hollywood are both very fear driven. If you could address a young raved group of political activists and not this room of narcissistic people…I’m kidding, I’m the only narcissist here. But if you could address young people or Congress, how would you tell them to celebrate originality and push original thinking through the system?


AG: Wow that’s a tough question.


EH: Save us! Save America right now, do it!


AG: We’re in bad shape when people are turning to the ivory tower for help. The first thing I would say is: people should be less afraid of being wrong. There’s evidence that if you get people to speak up with dissenting opinions even if they are incorrect, the group will make better decisions because people have to sit down and re-examine their assumptions. I think for the most part people are afraid of bringing up those dissenting voices, whether it’s in congress or the Senate or elsewhere. They think they are going to get judged on their worst ideas and their biggest mistakes, but that’s not how the world works; we judge people on their good ideas not their bad ones. A  long time ago there was a guy who invented a talking doll that was so creepy it not only scared children but adults too, and do you judge him? No, you celebrate Thomas Edison for pioneering the lightbulb around the same time.


EH: I like how you did that. Kind of buried the lead there, that’s cool.


AG: Thank you, I was up till about 3am working on that one. But I think this is true in every domain. There was a Michael Jordan commercial about how he succeeds because he’s failed so many times. I guess I would love to see politicians more open to trying ideas that maybe don’t work and admit they screwed up, but then hoping it will help more ideas come to the table.


EH: Does your book run the risk of making everyone original and thereby ruining it for everyone? Yes! Good, good!


Photography: Shane McCauley for NeueJournal

Daniel Askill

Take Flight


Virtual reality is here. We may not know exactly how the technology will evolve or how it will be integrated into our daily lives, but somewhat suddenly, it has arrived. Few companies are embracing VR as a new medium for storytelling as much as the New York Times. Recently, they tapped filmmaker and artist Daniel Askill to utilize VR in creating a series of immersive portraits titled, “Take Flight.” We caught up with Askill on a recent visit to NeueHouse Hollywood, getting his take on the technology’s future, and learning a bit about his identity as a filmmaker.


NeueJournal: How do you see virtual reality enhancing the power of good storytelling?


Daniel Askill: This is my first experience making a virtual reality piece and I must say that, as a result, I’m kind of a convert. Obviously, it’s going to be an amazing tool for storytelling but I kind of believe that, moving forward, it’s going to get close to being a kind of parallel to real life. It’s got incredible potential for storytelling but even more so, it’s got this incredible potential for a whole new form of experiential entertainment and education.


NJ: We were in the Miami program with Vanity Fair and we brought Nonny de la Peña, a pioneer in immersive journalism. It was incredible — putting on the headset and being in a refugee camp in Syria.


DA: Imagine when it’s not the goggles anymore but it’s embedded in a contact lens or something. We can pretty quickly start imagining a future where people are living in paradises of their creation. That’s kind of the dystopian, as an incredible amount of beautiful stuff is gonna come of it as well — being able to make people empathize with other people’s situations is gonna be a really powerful way to use the technology.


NJ: Do you have any reservations or anxieties about the technology?


DA: I wouldn’t say it is an anxiety, but you can also start wondering if we are already living in some weird extrapolation of some technology…it can get quite trippy.




NJ: Do you see virtual reality as the natural next step for motion picture or is it a separate medium entirely?


DA: I still love the motion picture — the idea of a frame, the control you have of a composition in that space, directing someone through a story. Hopefully, VR won’t be something that obliterates that craft.


NJ: What is your favorite saying or aphorism?


DA: I mean this is a bit cheeseball but, if I’m on a shoot things are getting a bit hairy, I will often find myself saying in my head, “Bring love and good energy.” I find that that chills me out.


Ksubi Kolors Directed by Daniel Askill


NJ: Who’s your favorite poet if you have one?


DA: The first name that comes to mind is a filmmaker who I think really is a poet — Tarkovsky. My favorite films are ones that verge on poetry more than traditional storytelling.


NJ: What do you mean when you say film that is more like poetry?


DA: Something that is less of a traditional narrative and more storytelling through mood and connection between image and music. I guess there is a sense of poetry in metaphor, abstraction, things that are implied, things that leave more space for the viewer.


NJ: What natural talent do you wish you would have been gifted with?


DA: This is a bit of a supernatural talent, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind just because of this project: I’d like to be able to fly.


Sia’s “Elastic Heart” Directed by Daniel Askill


NJ: What do you hate?


DA: When people are judgmental. I don’t hate people who are judgmental, but the judgmental sentiment is something I find difficult.


NJ: Where would you like to live?


DA: I have been thinking the next place I would live is Los Angeles or back home. Where I’m from in Sydney, you can have an urban life but still have a home in nature. LA has that too. Where I live in New York, I have a house upstate.


Paul McCartney’s Hope For The Future Directed by Daniel Askill


NJ: Do you have any heroes?


DA: Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and Tarkovsky. People like David Lynch have always been a big influence on me, not just regarding filmmaking but also a type of attitude towards creativity — creativity as an intuitive force that you need to be still to tap into.


NJ: What book inspires you?


DA: This collection of stories by a guy called J.G. Ballard. He’s an English writer with a really broad range, most of it is pretty weird and sci-fi. The other book is called ‘Sketchbook With Voices’ which is a book I picked up when I was 19. It’s edited by Jerry Saltz and has a whole bunch of empty pages and at top of each page is a line or paragraph from an artist that is a call to action for a young creative, maybe something as simple as, “Empty yourself from everything.” As you flip through, it really gets your mind thinking in different ways.


Photography: Shane McCauley for NeueJournal

Neville Wakefield
& Piero Golia

Survival Necessities

composite copy

Piero Golia is a conceptual artist, but don’t mistake him for someone who spends all his time contemplating ideas and abstractions. He likes to work, to do. Neville Wakefield is a creative jack-of-all-trades and has cemented himself as an influential tastemaker, one of the art world’s go-to curators and writers. The two friends recently hosted a dinner at NeueHouse Hollywood, discussing everything from Golia’s upbringing in Italy to his philosophies about survival.


Neville Wakefield: So you grew up in Naples?


Piero Golia: The other day I looked at my resume on Wikipedia and I read that my first show was in Naples, Florida. So, I guess I also come from Florida. Unfortunately the cuisine in Naples, Florida is nothing like the cuisine in Naples, Italy.


NW: What did you grow up eating?


PG: Pasta, meat, fish — we have a second dishes but pasta always comes first.


NW: Do you cook?


PG: Yes I love to cook.


NW: What’s your favorite dish?


PG: I cook for survival.


NW: What are your survival necessities?


PG: This is a weird thing. In reality, I never talked about survival necessities in the sense that I always assume that you have to survive. There are no survival necessities because you build your survival according to what you have around you. I always think that the biggest key to survive is people — once you have a good clan of people around then thriving becomes very easy. The reason why I will never leave LA is that it became so easy for me. Going somewhere else would be like starting for zero. Moving to Hollywood, I pay the same I would if I were to live in Jamaica, Queens.


NW: But you didn’t come to LA for real estate value?


PG: No, I don’t believe in real estate. I think that it is a lie that has fucked up things for years. There is still a little bit of a gold rush. People who head west are the ones who are ready to risk the most to get the gold. Unfortunately, it is really like “manifest destiny”


NW: So LA — a light comes on when you are here in LA?


PG: Yeah but I have to put the light there myself. That is part of the paradox. I was once at dinner and this guy who was extremely cultured was sitting next to me and he told me that he was originally from Amsterdam but now he lives in Brussels. I said “Man, why the fuck do you live in Brussels? It’s the most boring place in the universe.” And he said “Yeah, but Amsterdam is a tiny place and everybody knows my face” Sometimes it’s the scale that you use to measure things…I think unfortunately I am not very functional in evaluating scales.


NW: People talk about you as a conceptual artist. Is there any of your work that isn’t conceptual?


PG: This is funny because I would say all art is conceptual. I work like a fucking dog, so I don’t want people to think I’m this conceptual artist just sitting here taking books off my bookshelf. I’m more interested in the opposite, in art that is so scientifically perfect that it’s real. Then, if it is better than real, you can call it art again.


NW: So where does the line end?


PG: This is a funny thing because in theater there is always a line: Theater is fake. But art is not fake. So the line is not a boundary. It is a path.


Photography: Shane McCauley for NeueJournal