December 19, 2012

All Photographs © Slava Mogutin

The first time I saw Slava Mogutin, he was on the cover of Index Magazine. He was fully nude, and had his arm positioned in such a way to make all men on this earth envious of his seeming endowment. I was struck by how sexy and aggressive his image was. I remember reading the story, and being totally blown away. That I was to meet him years later was one of those things that seems to keep happening when art, culture, and politics collide.

Having worked with Slava to promote his first two monographs, Lost Boys and NYC Go-Go, I got to know something of this man who is, in my eyes, the epitome of a gentleman rebel. Equal parts intelligent, respectful, and provocative, Slava never ceases to amaze me with his philosophy of art and life, making every encounter a pleasure that is all mine.

I first came across his WIGGERS series in 2006 when curating a show on the history of Hip Hop. What Slava brings to the culture is unlike anyone I have ever encountered, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss this series in further depth. Enjoy!

You quote Rimbaud as saying “Morality is a type of brain disease.” What taboos and stereotypes are you exploring in the WIGGER series?

Slava Mogutin: I started this series about 6 years ago, when I met my boyfriend and collaborator Brian Kenny, who identified himself as a wigger. I remember being really turned on by him wearing durags and XXL jerseys. (Brian even made a video WEAR A DURAG—a cause of continuous controversy on YouTube). It was my first exposure to this subculture. I found it very fascinating from the style perspective, but also as a social phenomenon that contradicts politically correct notions of race and sexuality. For years I’ve been documenting urban youth subcultures, so I thought it was a perfect addition to my gallery of archetypes, collected in Lost Boys—skinheads, skaters, punks, military cadets, street hustlers, ravers, etc… Wiggers perceived to be outcasts by whites and blacks alike, and being a gay wigger is like double stigma. That’s why I wanted to celebrate wiggers in this series.

How does being a Soviet dissident influence your take on American pop culture?

SM: I think it gives me a certain perspective, different from my friends who grew up watching American television and Hollywood movies. I was always more interested in the American alternative culture—one of the reasons why I wanted to live in this country. I grew up reading the first Russian translations of Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson and Burroughs. And later on, I myself translated some of the most radical and brilliant writings of Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Dennis Cooper. When I moved to New York, I was lucky to meet and work with Allen and artists like Bruce LaBruce and Terry Richardson, who influenced my own work. Still, after 15 years of living in the US, I still consider myself a Russian artist and proudly call myself a Pinko Commie Fag.

What are your thoughts on white people adopting the culture of black America? Do you think this is mindless appropriation or a kind of cultural integration of sorts?

SM: I don’t understand why so many people find it offensive. There’s no question that Hip Hop, just like jazz and R&B, is an African American creation, but it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be embraced by the white musicians and audience. I’m not talking about Vanilla Ice, who was a manufactured miracle, but I think the Beastie Boys, Eminem and The Streets not just adopted or appropriated this style, but re-interpreted it in a very creative, unique way.

Your WIGGERS are way sexier than most depictions of males in Hip Hop culture. How does your taste for men impact your sensibilities about depictions of the male form?

SM: I think Hip Hop culture is totally sexy and homoerotic. It’s all about guys manifesting their machismo and their ghetto-blaster realness, jumping on stage with their shirts off, sagging really low, showing off their six-packs, tattoos and lots of bling. Coming from a largely monoracial country, I’ve always been a great admirer of men of color. In fact, when I first moved to New York, I used to only date black guys. My book NYC Go-Go is full of thuggy black and Latino dancers and hustlers, some of them are gay-for-pay, some are on the DL, married with kids and hustling for their families. Unlike lily-white Lost Boys, which was shot mainly in Russia and Europe, I consider this book my black baby.

There is a series where a WIGGER is gay bashing. Why did you decide to create these images?

SM: I thought it would be fun to shoot a scene with a skinhead being egged by a wigger. It wasn’t so much about gay bashing, but about this certain role-play, with the skinhead laying on a sidewalk in a fetal position, wearing just boots and diapers and his shaved skull resembling an egg. The most insane part was that the skinhead was my ex and this shoot was my first collaboration with Brian—literary the day we met. We were shooting in a black Muslim neighborhood in Clinton Hill, and the whole scene was so grotesque that all the neighborhood kids gathered together to watch and cheer. Some neighbors called the ambulance and the cops, but we managed to get away with it, because we told them that we were doing a school project. “Alright then,” said the cops, “you better keep those diapers on!” We ended up sampling all the voices and ambient sound and used them in a soundtrack for our video.

Being DL is the new black, so to speak. Every fifteen minutes, a new celebrity is “outted” by gossip sites, and it becomes hard to tell where truth, sensationalism, and media agendas begin and end. Everyone looks at this phenomenon from the heterosexual perspective, so I wonder, what are your thoughts on men—black, white, or otherwise—who live DL, and how do they impact the gay community?

SM: I just read an interesting book called American Voyeur by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, and there’s a whole chapter where he’s investigating the lives of black gay men on the DL. It’s a fascinating account of this growing trend, and apparently it’s far more common than most people think. Back in my Russian days I got into trouble with the authorities for outing some closeted celebrities and politicians (one of them was Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultra-nationalist leader of the so-called Liberal Democratic Party, one of the largest fractions in the Russian Parliament, and the former Presidential candidate, who once offered me a job as his PR person). I think it was very important to out them at that time and place, considering how homophobic Russian culture and politics were. After all these years of living in exile, I think that ultimately it should be a personal choice whether to be open about their sexuality or not. In fact, there’s something very appealing about sexual ambiguity.

SUPERM: Beauty & Hell

November 26, 2012

I would so cuddle the fuck out of you by SUPERM

“Working and living together is both exciting and challenging, and almost impossible at times,” says Slava Mogutin, one half of SUPERM, the ongoing collaboration with Brian Kenny. “BEAUTY & HELL marks eight years of our creative and romantic partnership. After traveling the world together with our work and mounting about a dozen gallery and museum shows in nine countries, we feel fortunate that we’re still able to excite and stimulate each other on so many levels and get our creative juices flowing! “

The exhibition at envoy is divided into two parts. From a twenty-year collection of vintage gay porn comes BEAUTY, a series of twenty-four Skingraph collages created by SUPERM on display at 131 Chrystie Street, running through November 29. The collages, with titles like, “I would so cuddle the fuck out of you,” “This almost didn’t happen,” and “The only veil under a desolate surface,” are made from bodies without heads or genitals drawn from the pages of magazines including Honcho, Torso, Inches, Mandate, and Playguy. The result is a study in patterns of beauty and the aestheticizing of the male form for the male gaze. It is a male as dominant and submissive, of power in all terrain ways….

Read the Full Story

Daring to breach the surface and sink

More on Slava Mogutin & Brian Kenny

nothing but the truth

June 21, 2012

It just so happens that yesterday Mr. Brown and I get into it. We always do. Impassioned debates on art and politics and beauty and life. And there’s this new subject, nothing I can mention here, but it sparked something in me. Why? I asked.

And he had his reasons and the thing that kills me is his logic is circular. And it’s based on generalizations. And it smacks of the Fascism he claims to hate. Everyone else’s Fascism is wrong, but mine is The Way.

Now see, I own it when I got on my high horse and charge. I know that I am on some dilettantish diatribe. I know I believe my argument, til I change my mind. It’s always about finding my way in the dark.

And some people shine a beacon through the void, and Mr. Brown has always been one of those people to me—and he is not the only one. And I am reminded of this when I step into envoy enterprises to see Brian Kenny’s show, The Hole Truth, and I stumble upon this American flag.

It’s but the bones of a piece of fabric held together by seams and nothing else and it hits me real hard. Why do I love this flag so much? Why does desecration look so fabulous? Perhaps it is because the flag means so little to me. I’m not for or against it. I don’t really vibe on the design; it’s much too busy for my taste.

It’s strange how something could hold so little significance when, for others, it is filled with hate or love, and driven by blindness into a kind of madness that bespeaks my disgust for groupthink. Perhaps this is why I have always refused to form an opinion besides anything other than the aesthetic. Symbolic imagery works for me when it feels exclusive.

To me the flag is only fascinating when it has been manipulated, when someone interacts with it to make a point and tell their story. And Brian tells me he learned to sew for this show, and I look at his remade American flags and I am loving the raw feeling that they have. They feel as American as American can be. Because on one side of the coin is this Fascist ideology where dissent is shut down immediately and on the other side is dissent sharpening its teeth.

And I think perhaps there is nothing so American as dissent. As critical thought. As thinking for yourself. As seeing your identity as an American and questioning it. As taking the most patriotic symbol of all and saying, This is how it appears to me. Because I am America and so is he. And his America is just as valid and fascinating as my own.

Ain’t no right or wrong. There’s just conversation. And that’s what I dig. Discussion. Argument. Ideas. Passion. I dig passion most of all, because without it, we’d all be beige.

And may I just add, Brian has the most incredible collection of drawings done on shooting targets and they are so beautiful and powerful and fresh and exciting that I could look at them for hours. And what’s amazing is, this flag keeps killing me. It’s not so much that I want to look at it as it is giving off an incredibly powerful energy. And maybe it’s because I spoke with Mr. Brown earlier and these ideas are fresh in my head. America, where subversion is my Constitutional right.

And you know, just writing that sentence reminds me that I love this fuckin fucked up evil awesome country. Cause we took the First Amendment and made it global and made it viral and we gave the world the Internet in order to make freedom of speech a way of life.

Brian Kenny: The Hole Truth


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