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A conversation with G. Lucas Crane

G. Lucas Crane spent a total of eight years living at The Silent Barn: seven at the New York art space’s original Ridgewood location, and one at its current Bushwick home. Crane is also a founding member of the current Silent Barn project. During this time, he has seen unbelievably transcendent art and unbelievably horrifying trash. Art, trash, and DIY spaces have one thing in common - they cross borders, and in doing so, make one reevaluate where those borders lie, both at the individual and social level. The Media asked Lucas to talk about his personal experience of trash, art, and DIY, and share some wisdom gleaned from being immersed in all three for so long.

Silent Barn 1.0 [The Husk]

The Silent Barn’s original location was my house. It was an industrial building that I lived in where we made shows happen.

There are these layers of wrong definitions. I am not supposed to be living in an industrial building and I am not supposed to be having performances in my home. In that space, in that intersection of different wrongs and improper uses of geography and space itself, you find the catch-all term “DIY culture.”

So I’m having shows in my house and getting the palpable sense that people come over and leave and they don’t take their trash with them when they leave. They can barely suffer to throw it into a receptacle that we randomly remembered to put out.

(We should have had ten. They should have been lining the walls.)

But people seem to want to go wild, and having a confusing or ambiguously defined geography or space to pull your culture in also lends itself to ambiguously defined trash policies.

After the revolution, who takes out the trash?

My first personal experience is that people generate a lot of trash and they don’t want to clean it up.

And why would they? Trash is yucky. I mean that as a technical term. It’s yucky, it’s physically disgusting, and you, as someone who is ingesting culture, you generate trash by that action. You people like to drink. That creates a rind that you have to cast off. That rind should be processed correctly, if we were being moral or ethical creatures, but it’s being packed into the trash and not recycled, and being put into a landfill. There’s recycling, but then there’s the Chinese food that you’re putting on top of the recycling, rendering it null and void, making the effort to separate it someone’s job.

Apparently it makes people really comfortable to not even have to think about the consequences of their actions. This plays out across all cultural interactions between people -- you’re stopping your mind at a boundary where you’re a moral or ethical actor, you’re a good person, you’re at this place for a good reason, everyone’s a great person, there’s no assholes in the room … but you’re not recycling. You’re a good person but you’re not bundling up your cardboard.

You stop your mind from thinking about the consequences of the trash you’re generating.

The aesthetic of trash

The moment of transcendence generates physical objects. Those physical objects are arrangements themselves -- disgusting, glorious arrangements. There is an element of beauty in it. You can actually tell how good the party was by what the trash looks like the next day.

Trash from a really amazing show on a Thursday in April is radically different from New Year’s Eve trash. New Year’s Eve trash has more glitter. More shoes. More confusing items.

There’s a distinction between trash that’s merely disgusting and trash that’s insane.

Dirty trash is just disgusting. A disgusting thing is like a bunch of cigarette butts in a beer bottle that’s clear so you can see them but they’re all swelled up and they’re in there and then there are also some bugs in there. That’s disgusting.

It’s not really that interesting though. People drink their Zima, the Zima bottle is clear, then they’re smoking in the basement and they’re putting their cigarette butts in there, but there’s still a little Zima in there, maybe one finger tall, so that fills the entire thing up with swollen cigarette butts, and those things look like grubs (they’re the worst) and then a fly gets in there and you can see that fly, and its abdomen is open and the guts are pointed towards the clear glass and...that’s vile. But I submit to you that that’s merely just disgusting.

Whereas say, you come downstairs after the party and there’s beer cans everywhere like normal and you go about picking them up (let’s say you didn’t clean up the night before like you were supposed to because something happened to you, something...ambiguous, concurrent with the transcendence of the night before) and you perceive that the trash is not just beer’s also a full meal, spread out on the ground, uneaten. It doesn’t make any sense.

Then you see a laptop with a piece of pizza stuck facedown on the keys. The laptop looks relatively new. Then there’s Final Cut Pro, new, in the box, with the cellophane not even ripped...and there’s vomit on that. Insane! Insane collections of objects, typified by the defiling of new things and the holding up as holy of really cheap things. Meticulously cleaned up PBR cans and broken laptops.

And then, to take care of all this, people cleaned to the level of their own insanity. Things got done when they needed to get done, one would clean up when one could stand it, and the things people could stand were totally unpredictable. You'd clean all the spaghetti that was everywhere but you'd leave a beer can full of piss on the shelf for a week. Or you'd make food on your bed and then leave the cutting board with flour on your bed, next to some magazines. I always recognized when I’d be going insane when I’d be reading in bed and I’d just let the book stay in bed with me. Then I’d keep reading and keep leaving books, so my bed would just be full of books. [editor’s note: my bed is currently full of books]

These are the micro psychotic breaks that come with dealing with the onslaught of transcendent culture generation.

Personal boundaries

I started to feel like being a janitor is a good metaphor for creating culture at all.

I’m staring at trash and I have to touch something and immediately that vileness comes up physically. It’s this physical reaction. I’m shaking right now just thinking about the litany of gross things. At that moment you discover this weird boundary where you’re like, why is this disgusting? Well, it’s clearly glistening, parts of it are moving, there’s this various fecundity going on, it smells bad, it smells so bad you can’t help vomiting, instantly. These are physical things. They are incontrovertible. I’m not gonna argue that this shit isn’t disgusting. But at that moment, it became attached to the further chapter after the party is over. How could it be disgusting when it was made out of this transcendent moment that you deliberately went into on purpose?

Everyone who went home to their nice apartments can freely disassociate these two things from each other, but it’s impossible for me. In that way, it changed what was disgusting to me, making me ...maybe a little dead inside. It turned me into this weird creature where I acknowledge what things are without having an emotional reaction, only a physical reaction.

There are all these times where I have to pick something up and it covers my hand in a glistening ooze that is undefinable, you don’t know what it is, it is a combination of all these super fucked up dirty filthy oozes, its pedigree is impossible to untangle, you play this game of “what’s this goo here” … but it doesn’t really matter. You have to clean it up.

I was really shocked personally about things I didn’t find disgusting anymore that I rationally knew were disgusting.

Like one time we were throwing trash out, it was summertime, and I was trying to organize bags into a trash pile. of the trash towers fell over on me. And it happened to be the bag that was full of all of the milk. I got caught between this tower of trash and this other tower of trash and this stinky bag fell on me from up above my head and it broke open on me and, because I was in this weird trash pool, the milk all fell out of the bag and the rotten milk filled up to about my stomach. There were all these different trashes, different disparate elements of trash, and the milk was this connective tissue. It’s like incorrectly sorted trash with kitchen trash and coffee grounds and beer cans and construction garbage and socks, a lot of socks, and something dead and some things that are a little alive and curdled milk and whey, the garbage whey of summer...

And I’m completely covered in it. From head to toe. I’m swimming in a little jacuzzi of filth. And I realized then, this is the worst thing ever, this is as bad as it’s ever been...but I didn’t flip out.

In that way, something disgusting becomes less disgusting and then becomes undisgusting and then becomes a thing that has to be surmounted and is the price of the cultural thing that you did. You find the boundary within yourself. You map out what shape the boundaries take. It reflects you and your own personal relationship with trash, or your own personal cleanliness.

Suddenly I am touching and doing the worst things, and it makes me disgusting, like a vile sewer rat. But from where are we talking about? Like, I smell bad, I look bad, I should be taken to the hospital maybe. But also, I am not disgusting because I am a beautiful snowflake and we’re endeavoured into these amazing things we are doing together and we should be focusing on that….But maybe I should also take a shower.

It loops itself.

Cultural attitudes

It makes it hard to have certain kinds of conversations with certain people. It creates cultural rejection instantly. “Oh that person’s disgusting, I don’t want to talk to them.” Or the opposite. “Those people look a little too clean and square, I’m not gonna engage with them.”

These are the daily programs we have to get away from.

In my personal experience of living in venues, you quickly get battle scars. You get cynical like, you can’t ever clean up to the point where it will get accepted by certain cultural levels as clean you can only get to this level of sanity for yourself. So maybe you pick up all the beer cans and clean up all the overt actual rotting garbage and you mop (maybe you have time to mop, good holy christ you should mop, every day you should mop, EVERY DAY). But maybe you don’t deep clean the sofa. You should probably do that, but you’re not going to because theres a show tomorrow, and that leads to everything being clean but your couch being a horrible godforsaken travesty, like, god will literally not go there.

Then months later you find a sandwich in the couch and you realize that sandwich has been in that couch for a long time, but you’re not going to judge yourself because life’s just too amazing, life’s just TOO AMAZING to take the fucking uneaten gigantic hoagie out of the couch.

What I’m saying is true. It’s vile, it’s indefensible, but it’s true.

Trash and the Artist

There’s a hilarious Bukowski quote where he’s like, “show me a dirty kitchen and I’ll show you a genius,” or, “show me a clean kitchen and I’ll show you a psychopath.” There’s a cliche that artists are frequently messy people, but there’s some truth in there and I think there are definitely super interesting cultural and psychological reasons for why that is. When you think of an artist you think of someone with messy hair, a desk covered in stuff. They’re thinking on some other plane and they can’t be bothered to pick up all their beer cans. Boy they must really be getting something done.

Maybe other people clean their houses but don’t go and take care of themselves spiritually. Artists attack their art to get to that spiritual basis, the sweet nectar of human feelings or something, I keep calling it transcendence but it’s something like that. You take it from this thing and it generates trash and it drives you insane but it feeds you.

There’s some relationship there. I’ve heard it put a little more academically: when you’re an artist, you should keep your priorities straight, like, the dishes can wait sometimes.

I would argue that the dishes ultimately have a threshold after which they cannot wait and they cause society itself to break down.

Finish your art because your creative expression ultimately will lead to a lot of good, but you should probably do the dishes. Don’t let them sit too long and turn into sentient societies inside your sink. Because maybe that will make it hard to relate to other humans.

Silent Barn 2.0

The new Silent Barn is much less gnarly. The old location was removed -- you’re in a wonderland and everyone’s a ninja turtle so you eat a sandwich and drop it on the ground and spit on the floor. The new space is licensed. We’re trying to make it legal in very specific ways so we can sustain it. That requires it to be less messy. It shapes how people relate to it, which is why people aren’t just pissing in the corner.

We’re still trying to carefully guard the ambiguity of the space. I would argue that’s what makes it DIY and not just a thing that’s totally known from the get-go. That’s a bar. You go into a bar, you act like it’s a bar, you know what it does. DIY embraces these cross-definitions. Legally, there are all these ways to squash ambiguity. One of those ways is that you have to keep it clean. That part is unambiguous. So we have to figure out how to preserve that ambiguity in other ways.

Also, the new space is much bigger. Collectively speaking, you have to distinctly have conversations about trash, or it’s not gonna get done.

When someone throws something on the ground, they aren’t thinking about it. When I pick it up, I think about it, I think about boundaries. We’re trying to keep everyone aware of boundaries: social, political, transcendent, spiritual. We’re trying to keep these conversations in the forefront.

Other businesses attack it differently. They’re like, “What are you talking about? I pay an undocumented worker to come in and clean. I pay him this much, because I can, and that makes it clean.”

You can’t really ask people who came to the show to come back and clean. I don’t know why, but you can’t. “Can you come back and clean?” “No, I paid for the show and I paid for drinks and that’s supposed to go back into your society and I don’t know what you’re doing, I don’t want to know, I just came to see my favorite band Death Before DaSauna. I paid for it and that means you clean up for me.”

Us trying to critique that and to have these conversations and deal with these principles is something that we should be trying to do. Even if it’s absurd, doesn’t fit into the world, and is doomed to failure.

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