The Outsider Insider Artist
Robbie Hansen interviewed by Maxi Kim.
Robbie Hansen is a cultural chameleon, capable of playing many roles: artist, composer, academic gangster, filmmaker, realty worker for Coldwell Banker. Born in Mission Viejo, California, Robbie faced the possibility of being completely deaf at an early age and has spent his life immersed in the intricacies of sound, video and performance. “Paul De Marinis inspires me, but also musical acts like Ashra, Hawkwind, Chrome, Scott Walker and Joe Meek. I love realty and culinary stuff too. And so I kind of throw all these influences together – no one craft or interest of mine is emphasized over another.”
To my mind Hansen is one of a growing number of convincing sound artists working on the soundtrack of the coming technological singularity. Hansen gave the majority of this interview during the spring in Daly City, California at Beaubourg 268. Most recently Hansen’s group Vitamin Wig C was presented on BBC Radio as part of Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone.
3:AM: According to Wikipedia “modern music videos are primarily made and used as a marketing device intended to promote the sale of music recordings.” How have you attempted to change this medium that was originally used as a marketing tool?
Robbie Hansen: I haven’t tried. I generally go with my instinct when shooting a video. My aim isn’t to really change the medium or output, for me it’s just right. I’m able to do what I want. I didn’t really watch MTV growing up unless my brother had it on. He loved it from about 1992 to 1994. I was pretty young, like 10 years old. I remember feeling obstinate toward the Kurt Cobain craze, I found him to be a little annoying. For me, good whining comes in the form of crooning [laughter]. Mainly I was just into movies then. I was obsessed with movies like Critters, The Gate, She Devil, etc. Anyway, I think music videos are secondary to music download/host promotions these days. The aim of the industry has since adjusted for the info age, as far as I can tell.
3:AM: In a certain number of your videos, Dino Felipe’s ‘Rockin the Arc’ for instance, I feel like there’s a certain critical, but also playful, commentary on the popular notion of what a music video is and ought to be. Do you ever, in your videos, consciously play with the fact that the form came into prominence in the 80s, when MTV based their format around the medium?
RH: I asked Dino if I could make it and he gave me the go. And really that was the first music video I made. I had to have credits and the credits drew parameters around the video, making it an “official” music video. I’m not sure how conscious I was, or am, of the music video format.
3:AM: I really enjoyed your 3-minute video, ‘Black Star Canyon’. It has a very dreamy, relaxing quality; it almost seems as if you’ve mellowed as an artist. Does this video mark a turning point? It reminded me of Bill Viola‘s early stuff, and why I got into video art in the first place. Can you tell us what inspired you to make it?
RH: No turning point, really. Right after I made that video I made a music video for my song ‘Spiritual Burrito!’ Anyway, Black Star Canyon is an actual place in Irvine, California. It has a road running through a washed out mining community, the road isn’t overseen by cops. Although the road is a public road that for years bikers and hikers have trailed on for leisure, the park overtime has increasingly been a place to avoid. People have witnessed strange behavior from animals, KKK gatherings; people have been shot at, have disappeared; sightings of green fire, and bizarre noises that sound like a cross between a terrified cat and a woman in ecstasy have been reported. So in hearing about all this, I was hooked naturally; not so much on seeing the actual place, but in reading about the accumulated stories as a result of people’s imagination running wild. So I figured it would be funny if I shot it in my backyard and posted it to Youtube, so as to create another hallucinatory layer to the myths surrounding Black Star. It doesn’t correlate in any way with any of the stories already surrounding Black Star, but in a way it does, because it’s a place that attracts fabrication.
3:AM: One of my favorite Robbie Hansen videos is the epic 8-minute length ‘B.D. & D Antiques’ video. I’ve written at great length about its many hallucinatory layers. Does pot or alcohol or psychedelics ever play a role in your creative process? Recently I interviewed the cyberpunk author Rudy Rucker, and he found that quitting pot and alcohol in the mid 90s didn’t change his writing adversely. Do you ever fear that your creativity might suffer if you were to quit?
RH: I love the review you wrote. You kind of defined the ‘B.D. & D’ video for me. Drugs play a part in my creative process, well marijuana really – but not all the time. And if my creativity goes, it goes. But I don’t want to mislead you, I can create the same kind of imagery sober. Pot just makes things a little more fun.
3:AM: One of your newest videos, ’3 Funerals & A Baby’ takes place in Beaubourg 268 and it appears that the video is about telekinesis. It’s strangely suspenseful; it really appears your work is headed in a different direction. Can you say a few words about how ’3 Funerals & A Baby’ came to be?
RH: I originally created that video for The Experimental Meditation Database. When watching the video, you get the impression that no matter how hard the eggplant tries to organize its balls, the balls never stay put. And oddly enough the balls are already contained by dirt walls. The technique was simple. I held my GL1 Canon camera and felt the wind against my hands as I controlled it and followed the movement of the balls, which were also effected by the wind. The eggplant, which I’m holding just under the lens, sometimes appears to be working in unison with the balls. And so yes, telekinesis seems to be the game at play. It’s like an existential video for inanimate objects that I’ve personified.
3:AM: In the past we’ve talked at great length about your interest in horror movies and science fiction films. Who are you watching these days?
3:AM: When I look at your work sometimes I see John Baldessari and the influence of outsider artists. How do you see yourself in relation to other artists?
RH: I try to be as aware of what other artists are doing. But to be honest, I’m too absorbed in my own crafts to really care. I certainly have an appreciation for artists who’ve endured creatively without any compensation or recognition for their work. That’s my definition of an outsider artist.
3:AM: I was talking to video artist Gina Clark the other day, and we were talking about the similarities between your music and Ariel Pink‘s music. What is your connection to Ariel Pink?
RH: There is no real connection, actually. I’ve never met him. But I was making music in 2003/2004 that sounds alot like his stuff, I guess. Only a few select albums though, I feel. During the time I’d created those albums I’d never actually heard of Ariel. A mere coincidence for those who think we sound alike. I personally feel that we sound nothing alike, aside from having created a massive heap of lo-fi music. I do like some of his music though.
3:AM: Do you believe in originality?
RH: I do.
3:AM: In the past we’ve talked about Henry Darger and the problem you have with the way he’s been presented. What is it exactly that is problematic about the mainstream culture’s perception of Henry Darger?
RH: I discovered his work when I was about fifteen and was really drawn in. I was one of the early Darger fans before he became a sensation, like most of the other popular “outsider” artists. Anyway, I’m very interested in Adolf Wolfli, Carlo Zinelli, Dwight Mackintosh for reasons aside from the fact that they have somehow been left out. Not really actually. In fact they’re all super stars in the outsider arena, and so it only takes a filmmaker like Jessica Yu to come along and make Darger appear cheesy through the sheer sensationalizing of his work. Leave it to the books, I say. Try and reproduce his books for what they are as best you can and leave it at that. There’s a reason why high art can’t totally stomach outsider art. Because it’s not intellectual. Outsider art is overseen by people who sensationalized madness and critics now seem a little bored of surrealist dramatics and sensibilities. And somehow the surrealist party became almost synonymous with these “outsiders” shortly after the party died, especially. Dali‘s work is so dramatic. And boring! Calculative at best. Carlo Zinelli illuminated ghosts and delusions much more directly then Dali, or Jean D. or Breton. I do appreciate Hanz and Menthol‘s writing. And I certainly prefer reading Hans Prinzhorn over looking through the surrealist filter at “outsider” artists. They’re simply in a different league and don’t need the same criticality that’s applied by critics of surrealism. The surrealist party almost used these outsider artists to make their own work seem stronger. Anyway, I don’t care for Jessica Yu and am annoyed by the sensitive documentaries that are coming out on outsider work. Just show it for what it is and say nothing. Or maybe start with Adolf Wolfli and [Walter] Morgenthaler‘s relationship to these artists and go from there. [Sigh] I dunno. It’s a tricky thing for me to talk about.
3:AM: Most recently your group Vitamin Wig C was on UK Radio. BBC Radio‘s Stuart Maconie described your group as “. . . a bunch of musicians who’ve been working with Nancy Sinatra on a record called ‘Too Ardent’ . . . This is the Vitamin Wig C mix; Vitamin Wig C being some hipsters from San Francisco.” How did this project come about? How does it feel to be labeled a hipster from San Francisco?
RH: I don’t mind that much because it isn’t true. I guess I need to put up a Wikipedia page [laughter]. I know it’s a little hard for people to get biographical material, especially Maconie because he’s located in the UK. ‘Too Ardent’ is a featured remix – nothing like a milestone for what I’ve been slaving over. In fact, I’m not proud of that particular track and see it as a partial failure in terms of promotion. But I don’t take promotion that seriously. All my projects are crumbling on me and I have so much stuff that I feel I should not slave over any craft. I’d rather put out random mediums/formats in all kinds of ways: videos, TV shows, kids’ stuff, adult stuff, arty-facts, and so on. So unlike a group of hipsters, it is one “hipster” – me. Without going into what I think a hipster is, I’ll just say I’m insecure in ways, but don’t mind if other people can detect it. And I certainly don’t place fashion over heart, I’m more into trying to let go in my own atmosphere. Not good at social calculation, or organizing scenes. I’m at home most of the time working on various projects.
3:AM: Recently you’ve moved back to Los Angeles. Has the move changed your music? What’s the next step?
RH: The next step is to play music, show movies at venues and spots of interest in L.A. We’ll see what happens.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, July 2nd, 2011.