Flying Object is a nonprofit art and publishing organization located in an old fire station in Hadley, Massachusetts. This Flying Object interview series will serve to document some of the writers, artists and performers that pass through—as well as activity in our own community.
In the 2013 film, Born to Win (Life After Ghostbusters), images of cultural residue overlap, fracture, swirl. Coastlines, Bob Saget, fast cars, Robert Redford rounding bases in The Natural. Filmmaker Luke Wyatt seems enamored by the wipe—the antiquated video method of transitioning between shots. He slices a beach into squares on a grid.
Eric Amling’s Private Event, on display at Flying Object this winter, is perfectly uncomfortable in that gap between images. His collages are “blurs of saturation” cut from fashion mags, ’70s porn, the interior design books by Terence Conran, Bloomingdale’s Book of Home Decorating. A single flower wilts; paradise erodes. His work suspends the viewer in pastel shadows of fabric and liquid, shifting focus away from objectified bodies, foregrounding the dreamscape, the silk, the mirage.
As part of the residency, Amling supplied Flying Object with auxiliary texts, films and music that influence his work, including a playlist heavy in Vaporwave, a genre Michelle Lhooq of Vice describes as “saxophone goo dripping out of a cheap plastic valve.” It’s the sound of Private Event: an empty film set, models all gone home.
Patrick Gaughan: Palm fronds dominate Private Event. They’re central to the show’s promotional graphic. They appear in multiple collages. You cite Ed Ruscha’s palms and a song by the Topaz Gang titled “palm.tree.fm.” I think of their tropical vibe, but also their saturation in ancient symbolism, such as the Christian Palm Sunday, where Jesus is greeted with fronds as he rides into Jerusalem. They were given to winning athletes in ancient Greece. In Islam, they’re associated with peace and paradise, like an olive branch. How am I to read the palms?
Eric Amling: That’s a good observation. And one that I think is circumstantial. Palms are often used in the photo shoots of centerfolds. Probably, like you mentioned, they invoke paradise, and the sources I get material from are often adult magazines. You know, erotic escapes. They look great with artificial light slicing through. Add a little smoke machine in there and it’s a resort dream. A mirage. When I was an alter boy I always liked the Easter season because the alter looked amazing decorated with palms. The gold tabernacle and the fronds around looked so exotic. I grew up in Brooklyn and, not being a big traveler, I didn’t have much real-time palm tree experience. So that Topaz Gang song does what tropical plants do for me. They make me perfectly uncomfortable.
PG: In this ART21 interview, Mike Kelley says “popular culture’s really invisible. People are oblivious to it,” so what he’s trying to do is to “work with this dominant culture and flay it, rip it apart, reconfigure it.” That phrase reverberates in my head lately, when I’m making art or just walking around: “flay the culture.” Does your work have this sort of intent?
EA: The only flaying of culture I’m doing is using the distorted backgrounds in images of objectified people and giving them the spotlight.
PG: Porn without the star. Palm Sunday without the priest.
EA: Right. Turning the Pomp into Circumstance. There is a series of collages I’m working on called Leisure that is constructed strictly from the fabrics around the nude models. You are left with these contours of crimped fabrics that, when combined, really over-saturate. Pornwithoutporn is a tumblr I follow that goes along the same idea; just images of adult-film sets, or stills of the performers prior to engaging in sex. I like to imagine the design conversations that had gone into them. Or the non-conversations.
PG: Speaking of spaces, and preparing for the act, could you tell me about your work space, how you arrange your materials?
EA: It’s a live-and-work space. There’s a leisure vibe in there. Glass decanter of bourbon. Records. Flat screen. Sometimes a flower. Glass onyx coffee table. And a recently acquired Ben Fain sculpture. I like to keep the place tidy. But on a very large desk with a stack of books and magazines in one corner, some fresh x-acto blades and glue sticks, there is a constant mess of cut outs. I usually have 4-5 pieces going in various stages.
A Night Out with Photon. 2014, Collage on Paper. Green jersey blanket, mountain of pink, palm in silhouette. A purple tube bisects the left, over an orb full of water.
Dirty Towel. 2014, Collage on Paper. An inverted figure suspended from a box of teal fading into pink. A foreboding blur of green, black, white, visibly ripped by hand, atop vertical rectangles, one purple, one blue.
Aspiring Actress. 2014, Collage on Paper. Woman in stocks, dark green block obscures her face. She floats in a sun-drenched cave, as fronds peek above wrinkles of beige, a layer of aquatic blue.
PG: Walk me through the process of creating a piece like Aspiring Actress. Which comes first: the colors, the face, the fronds?
EA: The fate of buying a particular magazine, and finding the marriage of an image from another completely random purchase—that excites me. The finished product, after cutting, the pasting down: so much could go wrong. There is chance involved. In the case of Aspiring Actress, the woman in the pillory image wound up on top of the cave stalactites. I noticed the colors really complimenting each other. The additional piece I sought out in the pile of clippings. I surprisingly know most of what I have in there at any given time. For instance, Dirty Towel was constructed in my head during a shower.
PG: There’s a certain brand of cosmopolitan masculinity in your source material (Oui Magazine’s slogan is “For the Man of the World”). The essays by Dave Hickey and Sam Shepard both perform a brand of cultured male on the fringe, a “pirate” as Hickey would say. How do you play with masculinity and femininity, or how does it enter the work?
EA: Yeah, a lot of the material comes from a His and Hers world. I started using Oui because of their use of silk in their photography. It’s everywhere. And the colors are really saturated. Silk and saturation. My new mantra. It’s really the space around the subject being photographed that I’m after. A blurry lamp. Sunny wallpaper. I think with these soft tones and elements combined in a collage you get an undercurrent of seduction. With these latest collages, and the work I’m creating now, I’m really thinking about how I respond to a certain image and if I can change its association. Hopefully my work will begin to ooze Unisex. Dave Hickey can be a self-certified asshole at times but he’s a good writer, and a smart one. Though I should clarify his use of the term “pirate” to not be gender specific. Eve Babitz, another influence on my work and great writer, would certainly fall into this pirate category.
From Hickey’s Pirates and Farmers: “Blur out at the edges like palm fronds in the morning fog, by devoting our most profound attention to the soft, glistening metamorphic edge of things, where straight lines curve, solids turn liquid, and liquids dissolve into atmosphere.”
PG: You display some of the work in an old bakery case, surrounded by white silk and backlit by a rope light, next to a flower in a bull-shaped liquor bottle. You use the same case in the show’s promotional video, set in a deep winter cabin. So where’d you get the case? And is this a way of creating this “silk and saturation” not only through the collages, but via objects in the gallery space? To make the viewer “perfectly uncomfortable?” Also, this is all sounding very similar to the set-up in your studio, no?
EA: A soft-lighted vitrine with silk would not look out of place in my studio. When I first saw the case lit up and complete with the collages in it, I did get that “perfectly uncomfortable” feeling. I couldn’t help empathizing with the person who would think this is what you do to make something beautiful. Silks, club lighting, glass bull vase. It truly became a Private Event, you know? I found the case for sale online, and it happened to be located at a general store near my friend the artist Matt Lafleur’s house in New York. He brought it to his studio, we puts the lights in it, and shot the promo video there. If it has that Twin Peaks vibe maybe it’s because Mark Frost’s house was only a couple hundred feet away.
PG: So speaking of vibe, of mise en scène, I need to mention the ASMR video you recommended. In it, a woman unboxes a new brush set, then whispers into the camera for forty-five minutes as she mimes applying make-up to the viewer. Supposedly, this combination of vocal tonality and slow, deliberate explanation makes the viewer “tingly.” I was skeptical. I watched the video in Flying Object, as Guy surfed the web and listened to NPR in the next room, and there I was on the couch, tingling. This effect seems to be a visceral manifestation of what your work intends, a trance brought on through atmosphere alone.
EA: I’m glad you really took the time with it, Patrick. That video was my introduction into ASMR. I’ve watched it in full about five times now—though it wasn’t the tingling sensations, or the “brain orgasms,” that drew me back in. I wish. I was more interested in the people making these videos. And I think this might be where I feel that “perfectly uncomfortable” sensation we’ve been talking about. Watching this person, motivated to make these 45-minute videos in the hopes of pleasing others by revealing personal details about herself. In that video, she starts talking about her son and about her life, her marriage, her shortcomings. All in whispers while trying to please you. My goal is to make you feel like you drank the Kool-Aid. Maybe this says something about me—making Trojan horses to express how I feel.
Eric Amling is an entrepreneur from New York City. His writing and artwork is composed in the studio White Jazz. His next exhibition, “Life Coach,” will open at Berl’s Poetry Shop in Brooklyn on April 12th.
Patrick Gaughan is a poet, performer and critic living in Northampton, Massachusetts. He contributes regularly to Blunderbuss, and has recent work in BOMB, Coldfront and Diagram. He’s an ensemble player in the Connecticut River Valley Poets’ Theater. You can find him on Twitter here.