Misha Hollenbach: Unraveling the Complexities of PAM
A few months ago, I had the chance to meet with Misha Hollenbach of cult Australian label PAM (Perks and Mini). I’d been a fan of PAM for sometime and their outlandish and creative graphics with a well-rounded cut & sew program had left me continually impressed. For anybody familiar with PAM, their graphical approach undoubtedly requires a great deal of self-deciphering as it’s much beyond your prototypical visuals making their way onto t-shirt bodies. However, our conversation was rooted very little in the actual fashion. We took the opportunity to explore what forms the basis of PAM and how the brand’s values and approaches are much different than the norm of many out there. It’s Perks & Mini’s creative output that continually has me interested and is central theme to this feature.
Interview: Eugene Kan
Interview with Misha Hollenbach
Hey Misha, how’s it going? Can you offer a little personal history into what you were doing prior to the start of Perks & Mini?
Misha: I had been busy painting in places where I shouldn’t have… After a degree at art school studying painting, and getting nowhere, I worked with a tie dye company that was also selling ‘other things’. Then after a long and fun fax communication exercise/battle with Erik Brunetti, (I loved what he was doing, and also had most of the references)…. he offered me a job at FUCT. I moved there, and lived and worked with Erik until my VISA ran out. After that I travelled around Europe for a bit, got a job in NYC art directing Tokion, was in an exhibition with Phil Frost, Barry McGee, KAWS and Shepherd… went to the opening, got fucked up, painted some things I wasn’t meant to, got caught, went to jail. I got kicked out (again), never to return to the US and came home to Australia. I started PAM with Shauna. When I say ‘started PAM’, we did a piece on a handball court that said P.A.M., an acronym for our two names.
From what I understand from previous conversations, you and Shauna both took different paths after school. On an artistic and personal level, why do you guys think you meshed so well to create the perfect balancing act.
I think Shauna and I are both “open in our views, and were so back then. It seemed the 90′s was so about “keeping it real” and macho attitudes prevailed through Hip-Hop and associated US culture. And I especially felt this is a graffiti world, and a design culture world to boot. Hanging with girls, although so not, was a bit “gay”, as was hanging with “gays”. Listening to Disco, House and Weirdo, was also “gay” in a male dominated Hip-Hop landscape where you were to “keep it real” and “don’t front” in a world of gats and big sneakers. Point being, here I start seeing a tag around town that reeked of freedom, a tag which, free from the Hip-Hop crap associated with graffiti, had funk, anarchy, crapness and fun emanating from behind the shitty MINI letters. So then finding the girl behind the name was wonderful, I had no other choice but to wanna hang! I think it was a sign of the times: honesty and the disregard for rules, genres and macho attitudes of 90′s culture: lets do graf with girls, not DICKS!
In regards to putting my time into school, I did a Fine Arts painting degree, but mostly smoked weed, and did spazz animations in Delux Paint on the AMIGA 500. The result being “contact hours” being kept to a very intense minimum. In regards to balancing acts: New Age Balacne, Ying/Yang, Universal Energy… These are the ALL important basis for life and we balance each other. And sometimes on bicycles!
The story behind PAM’s seasonal collections has often been one of relative obscurity with an almost cryptic background to where your inspirations lie? It doesn’t really matter if people “get it” do they?
The obscurity and cryptic nature is not what’s important. We really want to see the world with new eyes, and we do that how we can. We also love when we come across things (people, movements, happenings etc), that have shared a similar vision: one of new places, of hope, of creativity, of play, and of pushing boundaries of taste, aesthetics and ideas. We reference them overtly, meaning not to plagiarise or steal their vision, but to open up these “finds” to the world around us. PAM is really about spreading a message. This can happen in our books, on a t-shirt, or our music projects. It’s about sharing a culture, not about an ego. We’d like to put the “we” into ego. We, as in all of us! Art and culture is all about sharing and enjoying, if we can add new ideas, or resurface “old” ones, this makes us happy!
What’s your design process behind the graphics? I would imagine your range of influences and inspirations are pretty wide.
Pretty much see above, but saying that anything can have a influence on the graphics. They are our message. Or at least they hold keys to our message. From the idiocy and perfect nature of Smurfs, the wonderful tastes and sharing experience of pizza, music from all over the world: Chicago, Italy, Germany, Turkey…everywhere, basically anything we find and gets us excited and inspired will come out in the graphics. These can be recurring themes, or fleeting glimpses, at the time they are the things which move us.
Do you have a preference more so for designing graphics or cut & sew?
Graphics is an instant response to the environment. Cut and sew is more a process of making clothes that we’d like to wear, combined with a creativity, innovation, and a response to the state of fashion.
Over the years, you’ve been behind a lot of non-fashion related projects such as books and mixtapes. Was fashion ultimately just the easiest thing to get into for you to express yourself creatively?
Fashion is something that Shauna and I are both interested and involved in, but not exclusively! We are in interested in the way humans present/express themselves, from our Western culture based in the world’s larger cities, to the tribal cultures around the world… The way humans dress is a powerful and integral part of our lives. We all wear clothes, and express ourselves through what we wear. Making and wearing clothing allows for messages to be put forward in another medium, in the same way as art, music and design. The t-shirt for instance is a powerful medium for self expression. Recently we saw a kid in Holland wearing a “Surrounded by Idiots” tee: so great, so powerful, and especially because his teacher explained to us that he was autistic. But really he had more to say than most!!! Fashion isn’t the easiest way by far to communicate, nor is it our only way. Publishing, making art, involving ourselves in music projects, these all help us share our ideas, and also make for a wonderful way to live, creativity, collaborating and executing. It seems the world is way too caught up in the money way, just look around at this “consumer” culture. Ultimately it’s about making money, this is the drive behind so much music, so much fashion, so much art. Albeit important for living, money isn’t the focus for PAM, we are driven by other bigger things: fun, creation, play, digging, energy, possibilities, and art, design, music and fashion in it’s purest sense. It’s as though we’re out to share of escapism from the banality of human life in the city!
What are some of your peers and fellow artists and brands that you respect?
So many cross my mind. Here’s just a quick drill: Marcel Duchamp, Guy Debord, Paul McCArthy, Mike Kelley, Albert Oehlen, Paul Thek, Ettore Sottsass, Alessandro Mendini, Gruppo UFO, YMO, Popul Vuh, Werner Herzog, Jean Cocteau, Fellini, Pasolini, Argento, Simonetti, Patrick Cowley, Rinder and Lewis, Giorgio, Demis, Vangelis, Cokie Mueller, Penny Slinger, Natalie Du Pasquier, Wallace Berman, John Baldessari, Max Ernst, BWH, Discomagic, Il Discotto, Creatures, Bam Bam, Larry Heard, Terry Johnson, Tadanori Yokoo, Sangy, John Carpenter, Comme, Fiorucci, Yves St. Laurent, William Klein, Ryan Trecartin, Cockettes, SKATETHING, Fergadelic, Barry McGee, Chris Johanson, Thomas Bullock, Harvey, Kza, Jesse Saunders, Marshall Jefferson, Carl Craig… the list could go on.
After working under Erik Brunetti for a summer at FUCT, did this have any bearing on the overall course of your visual language? What was it like working under such an esteemed brand and creative?
Living in LA was fun. FUCT was fun. Erik’s a wild one, and I love that. Getting wild is the best. FUCT to me is the American Dream of drugs, guns, sex & bullshit!!! It suited me fine, although there always comes a time to keep moving. A visual language was shared, as in we both shared a taste for similar things already, I would say there was more of a bearing on my actual language like “Hell yeah!” or “Fuck No!” rather than my visual language!
Having spoken in the past, we both feel that education is something that has undoubtedly not been given the proper treatment around our circles. Do you think our current generation and crop of youth are sorely missing the point relative to the previous generations? How would you change this?
I think education is a tricky one. It’s importance is undoubtedly important for the “evolution” of our minds, but what education is more pertinent. Much of what we learn, or are taught, is laden with negative energies, whether it be control in the social or political form; Or historical “fact”, which again pertains to the ideas of a controlled social conduct, intelligence and being. This conventional “schooling” as education no doubt has it’s grave flaws. If you are talking about an education which comes from the media, this too is absolutely flawed. Again if it’s not “run” by the government or state, it’s ruled by money, giving us a type of false education. The result is marketing information, rather than soulful, deep insights.
I think the youth are in a wonderful position to self educate. We have the Internet with vast knowledge and information contained within. We have a somewhat comfortable standard of living in that we aren’t that exposed to serious poverty, famine and war of previous generations. We also have the opportunity of existing outside of a destructive, controlled political and social framework, as in today we have unparalleled freedom to do what we like. Everything’s in place to make for youth that can be educated, and educated in a way that is free, and free of all the crap of nationalistic and social expectations. The youth can make their own world, and there has never been a better time. Education is in part reading and learning, but more so in the energy of creativity, thinking, experience, travel, psychedelics, and good times. Anyone can learn from having fun!
How have you begun to utilize the medium of the Internet in creating new projects or even diversifying your reach?
The Internet’s a great communicative tool. It can also waste a lot of time, as we all would know. So pretty much we are analog, and go digital when necessary, or when the opportunity arises. It seems the Internet is synonymous with marketing, whether it be yourself (or your Internet persona), or promoting your “brand”. We indeed have a brand, I have a persona, and we are “on the net”, but this presence is mostly a byproduct of us being creative in the real world.
How do you communicate an intangible concept into something tangible like a graphic?
Graphics are picture words, and vice versa. Sometimes they say way more than words are capable of, so in a way an intangible concept can still remain intangible, but exist in something we can see. I love that graphics speak to anyone, and in their own way. Words seem to have a dangerous absoluteness, unless it’s poetic.
I think that for some, they may not be fully aware of your art background. How does working with art offer something that really isn’t on par with creating something for fashion?
More than art or fashion, or graphics, or music, it’s the possibility of making something that expresses your feelings, sharing your inspirations, having fun, and communicating with others. I suppose fashion has true limitations, You are making clothing, art is a world where anything can happen, it has endless conclusions.
You gave birth to your first child within the last year, has this affected your outlook on life from a creative standpoint?
Watching a child grow, and seeing how life forms, grows, develops and evolves is at it’s most immediate and real when having a child. This is bigger than any “human” pursuit. And everyone can do it. So it puts into perspective the world of nature that we are a part of, and how wonderful and massive this world is. Our own human creations such as art, science, politics, sport, are part of a much smaller picture. Acknowledging this gives art and creativity perspective in the way that it’s amazing, and of course I’ll devote my life to it. But actually there is something much bigger than us humans, and it’s not God, it’s life and nature!!!