ARTICLE MONICA USZEROWICZ
PHOTOGRAPHY KUBIAT NNAMDIE
THE CO-FOUNDER OF THE MONUMENTAL BANDS GANG GANG DANCE AND I.U.D. TAKES SOME TIME OUT OF HER PLEASANTLY PACKED SCHEDULE TO TALK WHAT'S NEXT, THE (OFTEN PAINFUL) PAST, AND PERSONALIZED SNEAKERS
Lizzi Bougatsos is such an amalgamation of all the facets of her practice—it’s shocking to witness her inner calm in the face of her own brilliance. The soft-spoken kindness, the nervous laugh: you don’t expect a magic constellation of a human to be so grounded.
Then again, it’s not as if Bougatsos is inextricably tied to her own fame; it’s clear she’s making art—whether in the form of installation, music, or ritual—because she has no other choice. It’s a way of life, something that seeps out of her pores and affects her vision. She’s had her work featured at James Fuentes, Reena Spaulings Fine Art, Gavin Brown Enterprises, Museo d’arte Contemporanea, at the 2008 Whitney Biennial; she’s a longtime collaborator with Rita Ackermann, a collector of everything from trash to cutouts, and has described her lyric-writing process as religious. When Gang Gang Dance—of which she is a co-founder—released Eye Contact in 2011, it was described as the most exemplary record of the group’s efforts yet, a pinnacle in its own way. Bougatsos, though, has been on a mend of sorts, cranking out more work with Ackermann, writing, developing a strong solo practice while collaborating with numerous others, some of whom she is keeping unnamed till a big reveal (Kim Gordon is just one).
This is the second time I’ve spoken to Bougatsos in this kind of capacity, and while it’s not surprising that so much can change in a year’s time, her own take on the process of transformation and returning to her roots is an especially beautiful one.
The last Gang Gang Dance album was massive. Are you currently on a hiatus from Gang Gang Dance and I.U.D.?
LB I have been on hiatus from Gang Gang for personal reasons—how relationships change and how sometimes change is very hard. We felt as if the whole band spiraled out of control. We were punks, comrades, a band of the earth. When things are not natural and other people get involved, when you’re not making your art the way you want to, you lose a certain peace inside you and can’t deliver honestly to your people. I needed to find my center outside of what I dedicated my years to. It’s hard work to be in a band; sometimes, you forget what is important. My life was the band. That is sometimes a woman’s way. I had a baby named Gang Gang Dance, and it was physical enough to have given birth and watch a child grow.
On another note, I.U.D. has been very active. We did an art and music residency in France this summer, recorded a 7" called Wierd Ho, toured a few spots in Europe, made a live recording at a Wade Guyton opening in Zurich—but I jumped through my drum kit when I lost my voice, so I wouldn't recommend it as a hot track. It's more of an experience. I think it's coming out in a Rizzoli book.
Sadie and I are going to Trinidad at the end of February. I’ve been trying to go on this trip for a long time, ever since I got my Spider pan steel drum. I plan on making some videos there; I might have to be the subject and turn in all those years I studied dance. A friend was asking me recently why I never choreographed a Gang Gang video for myself—I actually did make a Gang Gang video for “Adult Goth,” on my own with the film artist Dara Friedman. We never showed it. Maybe it’ll be in a Gang Gang retrospective one day.
You played with Kim Gordon recently, and did some tracks with Physical Therapy. Can you tell me about your music projects in the interim? How did you get involved with Kim?
LB Kim and I did a joint art exhibition in 2005 at Reena Spaulings. Since then we have become friends. Actually, we hang out quite a lot. She is an amazing human and we have a lot to talk about. I guess we run in some of the same circles, you know, being invited to the same events, been in the same magazines. More importantly, we both love art, music, writing, and films especially.
Playing with Kim is the closest I have been to a live Gang Gang feel in a long time. We have another show in the works—I.U.D. with Kim Gordon. I recorded two tracks with Physical Therapy; one was mixed by Arca. I think Daniel has been busy with Mykki Blanco tracks recently, and he wants Arca to do the second mix. I think we’re going to release them very soon. They have a very gothic, saucy, heartbreak feel, kind of Lost Boys. I'm working on a home studio, which is a pain in the ass. I really like to go into a studio, but I’m trying to lock down some efficiency so those nights when I am writing, I can lay them down. I also need some gear and it’s hard to acquire, so I’m trying to make and sell a lot of artwork to buy some shit.
If I had the money, I’d just do the record myself, a solo one and an I.U.D one. There are plenty of people I want to work with and those producers have been ready. I want to get freaky-deeky with my word play. I always have, but the Gang Gang guys were always a little scared when I got too freaky in the past. I had one song called “Tirramisilada”; they were like, “really Liz? You’re singing a food recipe.” I’ve always written like a rapper. I think that’s why I like Rick Ross; he's always talking about food. My first song I ever wrote was called “Pussy Muthafucka” and it was written way before that Peaches song—not to disrespect my beautiful friend. Tim said to me once, “When you sing, you speak for all of us, so picture your words coming out of all our mouths.”
You were in a film recently. Can you tell me about that?
LB I'm not sure I can discuss the film yet, but all I can say is, I love acting. I wouldn't mind some Carol Kane type roles. I've been told I'm quite the comedian and should have a slot on SNL; I would not mind that at all. In the meantime, I’ll just do my own skits at the gym. A hockey player once told me that a musician in a gym is not a good look. Ha, what’s he trying to say?
I heard you are doing a John Cage tribute performance and something with MOMA, as well.
LB Well, I do have a fluxist sort of background in performance. Yoko Ono, in my early days in NYC, was a huge influence—all the ’70s peeps. The curator at MOMA knows my background and asked me to perform around the John Cage piece, 4’33”, so it will be a take on that piece. I wish I could work with Charlemagne Palestine on this one, but he’s not based in New York. I want my piece at MOMA to be about love. I did choose the Valentine’s Day spot. I am going to dilapidate that shit.
You've always worked collaboratively, but you're doing it quite a lot now, and in bigger ways. What led you to these people and what kind of subjects are you guys exploring, if you can find some common threads?
LB I’ve always worked this way. It started with my band, Russia, then Actress, then Angelblood, then Gang Gang. I guess Gang Gang took up the biggest space for me—touring and the intensity of holding up all the members. I met everybody through these bands. Mick Barr played on an Angelblood record; many crossovers. Sadie was in Actress, Jess Holzworth was in Actress and Angelbood, even Spencer Sweeney was in Actress. Angelblood took it to the next level. Rita Ackermann and I performed a lot in Europe and did a lot of exhibitions together.
In what ways do you think the collaborative work you're doing right now will inspire your own practice?
LB I write to write. Where it goes, to which project, I’m not sure. A lot of my nasty stuff will go to the next I.U.D album. We already have the title and song titles, actually. I wish I could play my old Gang Gang songs live; they were so gritty. Dirty bass like “First Communion,” “Before my Voice Fails,” “Rugs of Prayer.” I’m not really a fan of glossed-over pop. It’s so boring. I think that’s why I play the drums. I hate easy. Music should be about experience, not some post-modern rendition of what came out ten years ago. Is that term like, ten years old now? Anyway, we already have that old song.
Does your current work reflect any kind of new mindset or processes you’re working with right now?
LB I’m still the same Lizzi. I still love all my old favorites, like Sinéad and Nick Cave when they come on in some cafe. An old boyfriend said about me once, “hanging with her is like Hot 97 playing on the left and Artforum magazine on the right.” It’s the same, except I haven’t been to Africa yet. I’m back to my hippie self, like when I was sixteen. I am working on my John Cage performance; I had a dream last night about raw eggs, so I’m trying to work that in. My group show that opens at James Fuentes tonight is sort of a nod to an old mindset, the way I took pictures and documented life. It was always a favorite of Colin DeLand’s when I got my thumb in the photo. My current focus is the raw eggs performance, an I.U.D performance at Petzel, the closing show of my Angelblood Exhibition at Home Alone 2 with Rita Ackermann, and my new gear at home. It’s all this for the month until I get to the Jungle.
I am interested in Kubiat’s photoshoot with you. It's like you’re taking what a friend of mine refers to as a "flora bath.”
LB Well, that kind of thing is work to me and I do need time to set aside to do it. Kuby had been trying to photograph me for a long time. Originally, he wanted to photograph me through the computer, which would have been more "aura based." My shoot concept was very simple. On my way home from a casting, I found some trees in a garbage in the Flower District. I took them home and put them in my bathtub and when he came over, I had three outfits planned. I style myself and the clothes I wear seem to signify where I’m at in my brain. I thought it'd be funny to take it to the park. My neighborhood is so ’90s hip-hop, so wearing those sneaks is kind of a joke. But then again, they are special because they were made for me, Lady Gaga, and Terrence Koh. All my guys want a pair because they printed the band on the label. They will definitely be showcased in the Gang Gang Dance Retrospective.