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Utopian Ensemble

Interview by Jana Astanov.

Kalan Sherrard (Enormousface) is a slime mold who lives in a (w)hole in the ground with 17 wild dogs. Based in New York City, he builds huge trundling grotesque structures out of garbage and has been proliferating Not-Happenings and Puppet Shows around the Americas and Europe for a decade. Kalan is a student of Comparative Literature and Doctor of Misunderstanding, and lectures periodically on Ontological Nihilist Anarchist Praxis.

3:AM: How did it all start? What made you a performance artist?

Kalan Sherrard: Hmm, ex nihilo, right? I definitely register the term “performance artist” as a pejorative, or something people usually deploy for tax purposes or street cred…but I always did weird stuff in public – from my earliest youth I’ve been riddled with angst about the homogeneity of the world and have tried to do things to break it: attacking abercrombie & fitch in the mall with a plunger, posting strange statues made of garbage around my town, different kinds of interventions, parades and experiments. I’ve always cared a lot about difference. Part of the balancing act between hedonism and martyrdom is about trying to have a good life and working to create an utopian ensemble, and I definitely do carry out my own kind of revolutionary praxis along those lines, a kind of fusion of trash-eating holier-than-though lifestylism and evangelical anti-capitalist gutter-person. So I guess you could blame it on the greedy old world. There’s definitely inspirational moments though, seeing a rock fall unmoved into a freezing river, that unknown girl who used to do unspeakable things with barbies in the street at the festivals, reading!, but I would say it certainly feels like I’m more inspired by absence than presence: I do what I do because it seems to be critically missing in the world and I want to see it not-happen.

3:AM: You mentioned reading as one of your inspirations, what is your current reading list?

KS: I’ve been sort of hopping about somewhat of late. Just finishing Blessed Is The Flame: an introduction to concentration camp resistance and anarcho-nihilism, a few volumes of poetry and Bolano’s Antwerp (again). I might bother this Dark Ecology book by Timothy Morton, but I’m actually a little lonely for literature if you have any suggestions. I also always return to this INCREDIBLE text Onan The Illiterate I found years ago on ubuweb – and just finally got in touch with the author! My old favorites are Deleuze’& Guatari’s A Thousand Plateaus, Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands, Milorad Pavic’s The Dictionary of the Khazars, Michael Ondaatje’s Collected works of Billy the Kid. I think i’ll probably be re-reading lots of Rimbaud in the coming weeks, but I’’m on the lookout for a contemporary Daniil Kharms. Send texts!

3:AM: Check out the poetry section at 3am, you may also like Steve Finbow’s Grave Desire, as well as my favourite Polish author, painter and philosopher Ignacy, and his novel Insatiability, if you are into political writing perhaps Czeslaw Milosz “The Captive Mind”. And since you are in Amsterdam right now, you must check out Bookie Wookie, a bookstore with art books made by artists: https://boewoe.home.xs4all.nl/frame2.htm. I saw the syllabus on your website, what a great collection! A lot of modernist influences there… which leads me to the next question about the elements of your aesthetic?

KS: There’s definitely a stock answer for this sitting around somewhere. “Weaponize/defacialize non-goal-oriented abjects” used to be the Pillars of Practise response. “I’m a nihilist street physicist”? “Tactility of otherness and absurdist filth”? Last week I was trying to paraphrase my self to my self and I said something to the order of “phoenixlike inversions of garbage” but that’s a little too buttered and liberal/sustainable. Here are some other words and slogans: organic pseudo-post-being arachnoid pith contemplates the multiverse, cthonia mastrubates itself to death, miniature ironic utopic becoming and dental hygiene infomercial, cute apocalyptica taskforce, meaningless anarchist pornography, cosmic death poem xxviii, anti-intellectual PhD program for pansies, inside-out-kyriarchy, thickness/messiness against utility and food, nothing exists. I do deep rearrangements of the semiotics of goods and bads, and try to sort of tell it like it is. Other thru-lines are things like topographies of Little Green Hills, Tentacles, Polyps, Inflation, Literary Theory (I’m irritatingly obsessed with Deleuze), trying to inform people and chipping away at systems of oppression…

3:AM: How would you describe the role of puppetry within your art practice?

KS: It’s pretty important, but I also don’t usually call myself a puppeteer. Puppets and dolls are the gateways between human beings and objects. There are tons of cliches to spout about puppetry and animism, the primacy of the object, attacking anthropocentric worldviews, etc, and while there were always puppets around, I started working with them to deal with the times I knew I wouldn’t be able to collaborate with other humans, to have a team. I try not to project too much narrative identity onto them, but one thing that i always come back to is the seemingly constant overlap between puppetry and radical politics that I think has to do with how it obviates control. Deleuze says something about the puppet and the puppeteer forming a rhizome, that it’s not unidirectional as people expect (a lot of these ancient adages are actually profoundly incorrect, “eating like a bird” for instance, birds eat tons, constantly, like me, scavenging). Puppets are kinetic sculptures, autonomous actors, indentured art objects, visionary citizens of a dystopic micro spasm [sic]. Although I also eschew the identity of “puppeteer” it is a concept that blurs the boundaries of discrete objects and persons. I do think Anarchist Nihilist Puppet Show is my day job, and I do have a long term dream of making an aircraft carrier out of garbage with a fleet of zeppelins on it and sailing around the world doing puppet shows out of the sky – so if any financiers are reading this….

3:AM: What is the dynamic between your performance art and installation?

KS: It does feel like all my disparate projects seem to work together more and more, to become increasingly cohesive with time. I like doing big dense installations, and i think I’m getting better at it, and it seems that an ornate kind of physics engagement is so often missing in so-called performance art that usually centers on the body, identity, sex, etc, but reifies actor/spectator constructs* [it’s also obviously a thing that white guys are permitted/enabled to Make Art About Ideas in a way that, for instance, if a woman Makes Art its always already described as Feminist. Which sucks. Colonial white supremacist heteropatriarchal hegemony sucks. And I hate to snuggle into that pattern, but it’s not always an obvious thing either, and permits and enable other kinds of egotistical laziness too. Everyone should be able to make art about ideas without getting cornered into self-art] …all i mean is that ideally i prefer to build huge ornate architectures and do things in them, and that i sometimes feel disappointed by the normalization of BDSM/Endurance performance art that’s cool and crafted, but also feels rote and canned and flattening. Sorry everybody.

3:AM: What are you working on currently?

KS: Jeeeeez way to much. I’m building an opera house, a world, a few new carts, trying to work on some films and a couple secret projects in/with the NYC subway system, some official gallery/theater things – when I’m back from europe, doing an ad hoc european squat tour (hmu, euro squatters!), I’ve got a show in a theater in the west village people can come to. I’m also making lots of drawings and action figures and puppets and landscapes. Most of the things are either not communicable through human expression or they’re top secret. Also I’m working on being a better person, and becoming more disciplined, and trying to learn how to dress regular.

3:AM: Oh please don’t, I loved that red dress I saw you wearing a couple of weeks ago on Bedford Avenue! Just keep warm on your European tour in September, and be careful with all the security firms in Kassel documenta 14 in Germany, they tend to bother anyone who doesn’t look like an average German bourgeois art consumer… I am telling from experience. So… who are some of the most interesting artists who use performance art as part of their practice?

KS: I don’t like nobody. Oh, actually William Pope L, Jack Smith and David Hammond are phenomenal heroes. Marcus Garvey Chetwynd (gotcha!), Guy Ben Ner, and Christoph Schlingensief are pretty cool too but most of them are dead in some way. Jon Konkol, Ieva Misevičiūtė, Poncili Creaccion, the Kuniklo Collective, Rallitox, Non Grata, … should I just tell you who my friends are? Fuck a lot of them are secret too! let me check in and get back to you.

3:AM: As a character in art history, what impact do you think you’ve had? How have you changed the ways in which people look at art?

KS: Hah what hubris!!! Okok all the cynics to the back of the personality. What are the books gonna say? [humanity won’t survive the 21st century] “FKA-Kalan reinvigorated and aligned street work as an active creative praxis. Xe was a visionary of maximalist garbage aesthetics and helped everyone realize not to be afraid and that anything was possible.” Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure. What are they gonna say about this interview? I hope I’ve expanded the horizons and strata of deep street work and some of the politics around garbage. They’ll say “Kalan Ruined Art.”


Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist, poetess and Priestess of Impermanence at Red Temple. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance and new media. She published three collections of poetry: Antidivine, Grimoire and Sublunar. She can be found here: website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, September 9th, 2017.