Al Morán of Morán Morán Gallery recently launched a unique project on Know Wave that highlights significant cultural moments. Leading the project is Ethan Swan who helps conduct interviews and curate archival editions provided directly by the participants. The first installment explored David Wojnarowicz and Ben Neill’s multimedia performance from 1989 entitled ITSOFOMO (In the Shadow of Forward Motion). The groundbreaking art piece was a vessel for the duo to address the elevating AIDS crisis and surrounding politics in the United States at the time. In homage to the work of Wojnarowicz and Neil, Know Wave published an in-depth investigation on its website with a series of ephemeral materials naturally purveyed throughout the online article.
The latest investigation surrounds a musical group called The Younger Lovers that was led by multifaceted artist Brontez Purnell. 2019 marks the ten-year anniversary of the group’s debut, and to commemorate them, Know Wave released its second extensive review that reexamines pivotal moments, figures alongside artworks by Brontez.
To get a better understanding of the project, we spoke with Swan where he discussed the inspiration behind it, the curation process, selecting editions, and thoughts on today’s consumer culture as a whole.
You don’t really get into this kind of work without having crazy fan energy.
What inspired you to do this project?
It’s really about storytelling. Al Morán, who co-founded Know Wave and Morán Morán Gallery, and I have been talking about storytelling for a while, as a kind of under-discussed foundation of the art world. How our favorite artists are storytellers for sure, but also our favorite curators and critics. I’ve worked with artists in galleries, museums, and publishing, and one of the highlights of that kind of work is getting to hear the story the artwork tells but also getting to hear the story the artist tells. We’d been thinking a lot about how to make that second conversation more visible to people. Lectures can be rough and unfun, books are expensive. We decided instead to mimic the process of making an exhibition – meeting up with artists to talk about the work, meeting up to talk about anything but the work, giving ourselves time to process and meeting again – so that we could reveal that kind of intimacy and open-ended storytelling.
Describe the curation process in choosing the subjects featured in the series.
We’re fans! You don’t really get into this kind of work without having crazy fan energy, just loving something so much you have to tell everyone you know about it. It’s one of the things that really hit me about Morán Morán, even going back to when it was called OHWOW: that breathless excitement all the staff there has for the work they show. The shows on Know Wave are exactly the same. It’s really an extension of that – what are the records or zines or moments in time that hit us so hard we can’t stop thinking about them?
Everyone we talked to was super generous with their time and their stories, which I think is similarly a testament to how loved Brontez is.
How do you go about selecting the editions for each review?
We knew from the beginning that we wanted the reviews to be driven by images – handwritten notes, snapshots, book covers, flyers – the evidence of something taking place. Even though these are online presentations, I think there’s a real physical weight to them, since it’s always framed around that stuff. That led to the idea of editions pretty naturally. As we’re figuring out the possibilities for images that will be part of each review, stuff always jumps out as a natural fit.
What was the collaboration process like with The Younger Lovers?
Brontez Purnell is an open book – heartbreak, embarrassments, surprises, hopes – it’s all up for discussion. A lot of it was just turning on the recorder and letting him reminisce about when and why he started the band. But he’s also part of a really self-sustaining and supportive community, so following those threads was really rewarding and illuminating. Hearing from Brontez’s friends and collaborators about his gravity and how his momentum has really pulled a lot of ideas into being has reinforced my feelings about the need to spotlight him and the way he works. Everyone we talked to was super generous with their time and their stories, which I think is similarly a testament to how loved Brontez is.
I think the job of a gallery or a curator or a writer is to slow things down and force enough space around a thing that you can really appreciate it.
What are your thoughts on today’s consumer culture?
One summer when I was in high school I only listened to Jungle. I bought mix cassettes at the flea market, blew out a pair of headphones, and drove my sister insane. And then I heard Bikini Kill and basically forgot all about it since punk seemed so much more exciting. Maybe ten years ago this UK label put out a compilation of key Jungle tracks and it reminded me there was all this music I’d forgotten about. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Jungle anymore, it just got pushed out of my mind by something else. Lately I feel like that happens to me three or four times a day, you’re just exposed to so much. And I don’t mind that churn, but I think the job of a gallery or a curator or a writer is to slow things down and force enough space around a thing that you can really appreciate it.
Would you say that this series is a reaction to today’s consumerism?
There are logos I have faith in and there are designs that don’t need any explanation. But the things that have meant the most to me have had some story woven through them and I don’t think I’m the only one that feels that way. I mean, you can buy the “Young n Hung” shirt off the Know Wave site without knowing anything about it and be happy with it. But there’s a whole backstory about Brontez growing up black and gay in a small southern town and really having to build this bulletproof identity so he could push through all the garbage ideas he encountered. That shirt is a tribute to that, and the review is a way to tell those stories.
Know Wave has always had a smart perspective because of the connection to the gallery.
What do you hope to accomplish with this project?
Know Wave has always had a smart perspective because of the connection to the gallery. There are huge conflicts and problems in the art world, but pretty much everyone agrees that the rigor and complexity of ideas are some of its strongest suits. The things we want to highlight through the reviews haven’t generally been given this kind of space or attention, but we’re confident they’ll all benefit from it. We want to hear artists talk on a hyper-focused, granular level, but we also want to get super vague and airy, which is sometimes when artists are at their best.
View the full investigation on The Younger Lovers at Know Wave’s official website.