Wilfred Brandt is an American born, Australian based writer, academic, artist, musician and all round good guy.
And why are we speaking with Wilfred today? Well we at ‘Art Whore’ feel it is important to showcase the thoughts, musings and general opinions of people involved in the art scene, who are not known for their art; indeed they may not even make art at all. People such as curators, brand owners, journalists, DJs, academics etc.
Why? Well if capital “A” Artists are the front line soldiers of the culture wars, people such as Wilfred are the sergeants. The generals. The 2nd line warriors directing, forming groups, making plans and taking the culture from the front lines, right into people’s psyche back on the home front.
Wilfred is most definitely such a figure.
Indeed, Wilfred is a veritable culture dandy: He has studied fine art, been involved in the zine world, played in bands, and is a well regarded journalist – writing for ‘Vice’ magazine in the early to mid 2000s, and since then for a slew of other well known publications such as ‘Yen’, ‘The Age’, ‘ANP Quarterly’, ‘EMPTY’, ‘PaperPlane’, ‘Dazed’,’Head Full of Snakes’, ‘Summer/Winter’, ‘They Shoot Homos Don’t They?’ and ‘DNA.’
(Photo below of Wilfred as a kid)
So, in an effort to learn, pass on some knowledge and generate discussion we sat down with Mr. Brandt and mined his knowledgeable brain for his thoughts on art, skateboarding, music, punk, life in Australia and a whole lot more.
Read it all, below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
Wilfred Marvin Brandt
16 March 1975
City, State n Country you currently call home?
Sydney, NSW Australia.
City, State n Country you’re from?
Born in Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.
Raised in suburbs of Toledo Ohio ‘til I was 16, Dayton Ohio ‘til I was 21.
(Photos below of Wilfred in the 1990s, with his band ‘Giraffe Boy‘)
Describe a memory from some stages of your life ….basically trying to piece together pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, romance, school, politics, crime… ANYTHING really!
* age 5 – beginnings:
I was a big fan of E.T. and Star Wars.
I loved animals (still do!)
* age 10 – continuations:
We had a breakdancing crew in Sylvania, Ohio. My name was Mr. Centipede because I was great at doing the centipede.
I read a lot, my favorite TV show was this sci-fi alien show ‘V’ and I read all these novels based on that show.
(Photo below of Wilfred as a kid)
* age 15 – getting serious:
I liked skateboarding and then it became ‘uncool’ and I stuck with it and it was the first time I had self-identified with a subculture. I remember having girls at the junior high I attended actually say to me, “you know that skateboarding’s OUT, right?”
I was a big fan of Mike Vallely and Jason Lee.
(Photo below of Wilfred as a teenager)
* age 20 – young adult:
I was living with my parents still in Washington Township, Dayton Ohio, and playing in a band called Giraffe Boy (with my brother and our friend Brian Boes). We opened for Guided By Voices and played on a festival bill with Brainiac and Honeyburn.
I used to see Neil Blender around Dayton Ohio ocassionally and trip out. We put out a seven inch on Seldom Scene records, which was run by Bim Thomas – his current band Obnox is incredible!
Alien Workshop was (and is) from Dayton, and The Breeders blew up, and it was really amazing and empowering to be so close to all of that.
(Photo below of Wilfred in his 20s)
* age 25 – adult mode:
After a couple years living in Chicago, I moved to Los Angeles. I was lonely and sad but also totally romantic about that melancholy and excited and stoked to be alone and independent.
I worked on a TV show called Talk Soup and was on some of their sketches, often naked or getting hit over the head with a baseball bat. I lived in Los Feliz and had numerous Beck and Crispin Glover sightings. ‘Sex Laws’ had just come out and I drove back to Ohio and visited friends in Chicago for New Year’s Eve and we listened to Sex Laws heaps.
Y2K did not happen.
(Photo below of Wilfred in his 20s)
* age 30 – fully formed:
I moved to Australia. There was a ‘working holiday’ visa program and it was easier to move before you turned 30.
I had been to Sydney once for a visit and it reminded me of L.A. but it was way less car reliant, like you can always walk to your local shops.
(Photo below of Wilfred in his early 30s – in Tokyo)
* age 35 – adult continuations:
I was writing for TwoThousand and working on my PhD, I had a scholarship which wasn’t (and isn’t) enough to live off of so I worked two days a week.
I think I hadn’t started teaching yet, but that would come soon. Y’know what’s funny, I had a lot of consideration about what age I was and what I was doing in my 20s and early 30s but by 35 I just had stopped noticing? It’s kinda been that way since.
(Photo below of Wilfred in his mid 30s)
* age 40 – meanderings:
I lived in Canberra for a couple years. I moved there for a number of reasons. It was really good for me in a lot of ways but not ultimately the right place for me, especially at that time in my life.
I moved back to Sydney. It’s not perfect but it’s right for me, right now.
I am often daydreaming of moving to Wellington. I had thought of moving back to the U.S. but then Trump got elected.
Why am I talking about this? I guess you get to 40 and you think about not renting forever or ‘settling down’ or something.
(A recent photo of Wilfred below)
I have had a few in my time, ‘Don’t live your life by other people’s standards’ and ‘Nothing You Do Is A Waste Of Time’.
If you had to give a dictionary-type definition of various art-world terms… what would they be…
– Good art?
For me it’s something that’s: original, innovative, honest, and well executed (though that doesn’t necessarily mean slick or ‘professional’).
– Bad art?
Sometimes ‘bad’ art is the best art.
Like what people call ‘bad’ graffiti or ‘bad’ music is often rad – so many graffiti artists and musicians make these things that are polished and impenetrable and you’re meant to marvel at the production but it’s alientating. Same with ‘bad’ movies sometimes.
For me, ‘bad art’ means something that is derivative or pretentious or lazy or manipulative or convoluted or dishonest or self-important.
– A curator?
Someone who selects the artworks to hang together, or in other areas, the selection of goods to be sold in a store, or bookshop, etc.
– A critic?
I never really called myself a critic when I was reviewing stuff – I would just say I ‘write reviews’ or I ‘write about music’.
It’s weird to think of someone wanting to be a critic, like I love music and art and films and enjoy writing or talking about them but I somehow feel like defining yourself as a ‘critic’ would mean that’s how you function is to analyse other people’s work.
Ira from Yo La Tengo wanted to be a critic but ended up in a band.
– Art itself?
Personally? I feel like it can be purely aesthetic / decorative, or conceptual, and lots of films are art and interior design and landscape architecture are artforms and food and crafts can be art.
I probably have less of a problem with people classifying almost anything they do that’s creative as ‘art’ than some people. But stop calling your office a ‘studio’.
– An artist?
Anyone who makes any of the above, but there’s definitely differences between working for a brief / clients and making art, in my mind at least.
I don’t have a big line of distinction between arts and crafts, amateur or professional – all those people are artists in my eyes.
It took me a long time before I would call myself a writer, like probably 5+ years of getting paid to be a writer. I never really romanticised being a writer. When I lived in L.A. everyone would call themselves an actor but they were usually a waiter who went to auditions, and that kind of annoyed me. I wonder how I would feel about it now?
I remember somebody was doing a fundraiser to hike from Melbourne to Sydney and document it, and calling it an ‘art piece’ and that seemed like a stretch, like, can you just go about your normal business and call it ‘art’, if you’re not putting it in a different context or aesthecising it or performing in some way?
(Photos below of some art by Wilfred)
Wow, there are tons.
With artists to me it’s different from music or film where I am kind of at the mercy of what art exhibitions and art books are accessible. After thinking a lot, I’d say: Andy Warhol, Susan King, Pierre Huyghe, Mark Bradford, John Waters… lots really.
Are there any shared aspects in art you love, and if so – what are they man?
There are certain things I gravitate towards, but they’re random and specific. I like collage, I like a lot of installation stuff, hmm, I can’t think of what else.
(Photos below of some zines by Wilfred)
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
Yikes, well there’s a few.
Overall I think contemporary art is great but the things that bug me bug me a lot.
First, people in those scenes are soooooo critical in my experience of most things that are successful and are in any way ‘crowd friendly’ or approachable, like a big show at MCA will be criticised for being sensationalist and spectacular if it’s colourful or fun, y’know, or like saying Bill Viola’s works are only good because they employ expensive camera techniques ‘just like Hollywood’. It feels like sour grapes, like they just want to bag on other work that is successful because it makes them feel threatened or insecure, ‘oh, I could make work that’s just as good if I had that budget’.
It feels like a lot of people in those scenes want super bland, theoretical, political, or concept heavy work that is not fun.
Along with that, those scenes tend to be comprised of heaps of young folks in art school who are super uncompromising, often coming from places of privilege; by the time they are in their late 20s / early 30s they usually realise there’s no way to make a comfortable living in small arts so they either leave overseas to a market with better paying opportunites, or they start a family, or get a good paying job not in the arts, and then that cycle continues.
Also also, there’s this constant comparison to the overseas scene, and how this Olafur Eliassion show in Sydney was awful because of how it was curated, when I saw it in London it was magnificent but they totally ruined it (actual criticism I heard) and Documenta is so much better and the Biennale is crap and at the Venice Biennale there’s not even tape around exhibits with broken glass all over the ground, here in Australia we’re a total nanny state (another actual criticism), and in Germany they actually support the arts here all people care about is food and sports – people say the same stuff about the U.S. prioritising art more than Australia and it’s bullshit, Americans on average are definitely not more into art, but there’s better funding opportunities in places like New York and L.A. or San Fran, or even Houston, because of the economy of scale and the amount of wealth and a long tradition of philanthropy, etc.
I find these conversations exhausting personally, and I feel they detract energy that could be better spent trying to talk about work in a level-headed way.
Another thing (sorry, this is a real long answer) which I have pondered is a thing that, I do not know if it’s just a structural issue inherent to our removed locale and relatively small population, but there’s a social aspect that bugs me, people know each other and everybody parrots the same opinions and frankly I think a lot of mediocre work gets celebrated and given a platform because this person is friends with that person, etc.
Then there’s a lot of genuinely super talented or really ambitious and hard working folks who leave for New York or London or wherever because there’s more opportunities.
I think there’s a lot of super talented people who get overlooked because they’re not self-promoters or outgoing socially, and opportunities that should go to them go to Aussie Bro who hangs out at all the cool openings and shares a terrace with a cool lady, even though Aussie Bro makes kinda bland work everyone’s like, ‘yeah, but he’s a dude, I know him’. It breeds a mediocrity and it’s gross, and then people complain about the local arts being mediocre but they perpetuate that same shit.
I don’t know what the answer is; I don’t think that people need to be critical when their friends do mediocre work, but I do think people need to politely opt out of showing, promoting, or raving about shitty bands, mags, books, art, whatever just ‘cuz their best bud is involved. And it works both ways, lots of those people are making mediocre shit ‘cuz they are playing it safe out of fear that the ‘cool kids’ (their friends) will think it’s lame if they come out with something that isn’t easily identifiable as cool, or something that is vulnerable, or sad, or unique, or downright strange. This applies to restaurants, nightlife, DIY art spaces, bands, clothes, the whole she-bang.
I hate to play the ‘world class’ card, as cultural cringe is real and deeply embedded, but if a friend is visiting from overseas, what would I hype up to them, and not be cringing ‘cuz it’s just a shitty version of a bar in Brooklyn, or a musician that’s pretty crap but safely ironic? What local artists would I be excited to take them to an exhibition, and y’know, which would I be apologising for or over-explaining, ‘oh yeah, this DJ is really big here in Sydney…’ or ‘yeah, these guys have opened a bunch of successful restaurants’.
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
When teaching and studying art, I liked that students are allowed to question everything, and there’s philosophy or theory underpinning everything.
I can’t imagine anything that would be ‘off limits’ in a contemporary art gallery.
I also like the way Sydney is spread out, which some people hate, I feel like I still have a lot of anonymity and can lurk at shows and just be a fan which is important to me. Also, in general, there is ALWAYS more good stuff to find. It’s really limitless.
Whilst we know you through your writing – care to share with those at home the details of your other creative endevours… if any?!
I used to make music (write and record), I draw a bit, I did my Masters at SCA with a studio component, I make zines, and I do cool wrapping paper for presents I give friends.
What does skateboarding mean to you and why?
Skateboarding was and is special to me because it shaped who I am, it taught me resilience, it taught me you can love something and see beauty in it even if most of the people around you can’t see that beauty.
It taught me independence and also introduced me to wandering urban and suburban spaces and looking at stuff.
I remember in my thesis about skateboarding talking about how you can sit on your skateboard in a car park late at night and you’re given a pass for being out alone, without a skateboard people would worry you were crazy or homeless or high or whatever.
(Photo below of Wilfred skating back in the day)
If you had to describe skateboarding, to a recently landed Alien visitor – what would you tell ‘em?
That people had created devices to ride and do tricks upon, which could be used in any manmade urban space.
That skateboarding creates its own weird unique energy and vibrations that certain humans really get off on.
Favorite skaters and why?
Traditionally, Mark Gonzales, Jason Dill, early Mike Vallely, early Jason Lee… I really liked street skating, and actually the creativity those four showed.
I don’t follow skateboarding as closely as I used to, but a few others who I would be excited to watch a new skate video or unearthed footage from their heydays include: Bobby Puleo (for his crazy drive to unearth unique spots to skate) and Ricky Oyola (for his style and I like his uncompromising approach and the way he helped make Philadelphia an international mecca!)
Thoughts on the criticisms often leveled at Skate culture… mainly to do with it’s ‘tough guy masculine posturing’ aspects… Such as Violence. Misogyny. Under representation – if not outright exclusion – of people of colour, women, queer etc.?
Yeah, that’s all true, embarrassingly.
Skateboarding operates on a few levels, so one-to-one the homophobia or misogyny mightn’t be so bad – I’ve never had homophobic shit said to me by another skater (but then again, by the time I really started dating and going out I had stopped skating socially).
Then there’s the community aspect, so there’s definitely skate crews who have women or queer members and everyone is supportive and inclusive.
When you broaden out to the industry side though, that’s where the real erasure happens. Skateboarding has capitalism embedded within it, you know, if board sales slump, skate companies have to cut wages or kick people off their team. I don’t know what the sales figures would be like for a female or openly queer skater, but my theory is that fear of low board sales has kept that shit under wraps for years, which is moronic but there you go. Watch the Brian Andrews doco on Vice and you will hear two industry insiders say the exact same thing, almost word for word, ‘skateboarding is homophobic because the world is homophobic’. Well, that’s bullshit.
If you compare it to the arts, skateboarding is in the dark ages in terms of supporting queer or even female practitioners. And compared to other male dominated sports it’s still pretty awful as well.
Traditionally, the media hasn’t helped, with most representations of women as sex objects, and when I flipped through magazines or watched skate videos there was no queer visibility – I had no role models in that space.
One note though, people of colour have definitely been included, though I am sure that issues of class (and geography – being globally based in California) have kept the sport and industry predominantly white (getting back to capitalism, you need a certain amount of disposable income to buy new boards regularly, or new shoes, wheels, etc.)
One other thing, when I was interviewing a longterm skate graphic artist for my PhD he mentioned that, “when a pro skater says they want a religious graphic, they’re basically saying to me they don’t want to have a career in a year”. So there’s ‘rules of cool’ within the skate industry – I’m not trying to defend it in anyway, but having that understanding gave me a new insight, like, the industry is conservative, and though there’s tons of pro-queer and pro-female people, they’ve been traditionally adverse to showing anything from those communities.
On the flipside, it’s also not ‘cool’ to be a Jesus freak or whatever.
The homophobia and misogyny has always been weird though.
I remember reading an interview when I was 16 with some pro skater saying he had to leave his hometown because the skate scene was so shitty he had to skate with a girl, and thinking it was fucking ridiculous to say that was a bad thing. The industry is scared and conservative. It’s like Hollywood film making, watered down and bullshit. And yeah, masculine posturing, skateboarding is in a way creative expressions of masculinity and/or violence or aggression.
Street skateboarding, which is most skateboarding nowadays, is destructive, no matter how you slice it. But yeah, always weird that it’s a culture where creative innovation and ingenuity are held in such high regard but being gay or female or certain select kinds of ‘different’ is totally forbidden.
What does punk music and culture mean to you, and why?
To me, punk is a rebellion against the norm, a sense of independent defiance, and some level of violence even if only symbolic.
It’s a bit of a ‘fuck you’ attitude, even if sublimated.
Favourite punk bands?
Slint, The Modern Lovers, The Smiths, Joan of Arc.
(Some more art by Wilfred, below)
Is punk dead?
If you are talking about ‘punk’ as the term came to be associated with a certain style of clothes and music (in the fanzine of that same name, ‘Punk Magazine’), that’s run its course as far as being innovative and new. But those styles are still rebellious in many cultures and communities.
I went to a show in the basement of the Chippo Hotel soon after I moved back to Sydney from Canberra, it was Death Bells who run a cool small label, Burning Rose. It was nice being back in a city where I could be a lone weirdo at a show, a dude in my 40s just lurking drinking a beer, and there were a few other lone weirdos there, and you don’t feel suspect. I noticed there was a young lady there by herself, a person of colour, in a jean jacket. She was there for the openers and then got into the headliners, like I did, and she probably just heard the band on the radio and went, I don’t mean this to sound patronising but I was stoked to see she came to a show by herself, just popped on her jean jacket and rocked out and left by herself – I might have been to self-conscious to go to a show alone at age 19 or 22 or whatever.
Maybe this is getting back to the social aspect I was venting about above in Sydney / Australia, and it’s nice to see people do they’re own thing, not ‘cuz their friends think it’s cool or because they want to be popular or be part of a social ‘scene’, just ‘cuz they love a band. That’s punk, to me.
Thoughts on the current state of the Australian psychedelic music scene man – A scene that often has a very punk / DIY attitude?
I haven’t been following it as closely lately. I really like Tame Impala, but I wouldn’t even call them psyche necessarily, and there’s all these ‘psyche’ bands like King Gizzard that I think are cool but I would consider more garage or something. Tame Impala to me is like ELO whom I love.
I am much more interested in the DIY music scene at the moment, Paradise Daily, Burning Rose, Superstar / Sweet Whirl, Nice Music, Mikey Young (and almost anything he produces), R.I.P. Society, that sort of stuff.
Odds n Ends
Who was your 1st crush and why?
Hmm. Probably some guy I used to see in the halls at work at E! Entertainment Television when I was 21.
I haven’t had many ‘celebrities’ that I wanted to do it with (or teachers or bosses, etc.) I don’t know why.
If I have a crush that’s at all sexual it’s usually on a barista or barman or someone who works in another department where I work.
Does sex change everything?
Yeah, as far as a relationship with someone? I don’t think I’ve ever had sex with someone where things weren’t at least slightly different thereafter.
Please describe what you think the Australian psyche / zeitgeist is today?
Living here has been a real learning experience, and in lots of ways I feel distinctly unqualified to comment as I wasn’t born and raised here (I moved to Australia when I was 27) I think a lot of what I can do is just compare.
I still think Australia is a lot more progressive than the U.S. (which I know will shock some people!). When I first moved here I remember seeing signs in toilets at clubs about ‘harm minimisation’ (“drugs are dangerous, if you or your friends take them, here’s what you should know…”) whereas in the U.S. – even in L.A., where I’d live – you’re more likely in a gay bar to see a sign about how they have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy and if you’re caught with drugs you’ll be thrown out.
Despite the lockout laws, bars are still open all night in lots of parts of most big cities, whereas in the U.S. it’s only in Vegas and New Orleans (and it seems a big tourist attraction there), there’s legalised prostitution (gay and straight), needle exchanges and shooting galleries, and just in general I feel like there’s less of an overbearing Christian presence and sports obesession- but then, I live in Sydney, so I am probably in a bubble!
There’s also free public health care and people do travel overseas a lot; I mean, I get fed up with it being kind of a bourqeious dinner party topic about where do you stay when you holiday in Italy and Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia is really hot right now (gag) but it’s definitely healthier than the U.S. or similar – a giant country where the majority of the people don’t own a passport and have never travelled to even a neighboring country. I am stoked that the ‘change the date’ movement is gaining ground, but also wish we could have public outcry about the detention centres on the same level as the lockout laws.
I *do* really think that because here in Australia we’ve been spared some of the issues the rest of the world has faced – our economy has stayed buoyant, and we haven’t had terrorist attacks on par with the rest of the world, or mass shootings – there’s a fear of disturbing the ‘status quo’ so your average Australian doesn’t want to think about refugees or changing any laws re: foreign policy because ‘the economy is good, don’t touch a thing!’ basically.
Music is rad and food here is always great, as a longtime vegetarian I am excited that plant-based food is becoming more common across Sydney.
Which cartoon character, would you most like to see in a tribute sex toy, and why?
This is tough to say because a cartoon toy is one thing, but I can’t think of a cartoon I want to have sex with unfortunately.
I sound like a prude, but trust me I’m not really.
Who would win in a fight and why: Mark Gonzales Vs. Bart Simpson?
Mark Gonzales 100%, he is way more creative.
(Art below by Wilfred of the battle in all it’s violent glory!)
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
I have never been super into drugs for a number of reasons, some of them circumstantial.
For one thing after probably 17 or 22 I hardly ever smoked weed socially, I would get too paranoid though that always seems the wrong word – self-conscious? I wish I could smoke weed, I love the culture.
When I lived in L.A. all my friends were ‘over’ doing coke and in Australia it’s insanely expensive and so mainly douchebag assholes do it.
Some people can find great inspiration from drugs and whilst on drugs, and some people are long-term dabblers but some it fucks them up. I guess if you’re asking my advice I’d say just try and have some self-awareness when it’s becoming a crutch or limiting your lifestyle.
Oh but drinking, I mean, as a writer? Drinking can be really good. ‘Write drunk, edit sober’ I think Alex Vitlin passed on that famous quote to me. A drink often helps silence your inner critic.
It sucks that you have to stay sober to edit, because editing can be fucking tedious.
What role did toys play in your childhood?
I played with G.I. Joe and Star Wars action figures a lot.
What are the top 3 items you own?
Damn, I don’t know.
Signed copy of Guide by Dennis Cooper.
(Photo below of Wilfred’s signed copy of Guide)
Postcard from Dan Clowes thanking me and saying he liked my music after I sent him a demo cassette.
(Photo below of Wilfred’s postcard from Mr. Clowes)
Perhaps my new ring from Greg Sindel at Studio A.
(Photo below of Wilfred’s ring from Mr Greg Sindel)
TBH the Dan Clowes thing I need to take better care of…
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
I often don’t remember my dreams, but one that I had soon after receiving these questions was that: Right Angle Studio (whom I used to work for) had opened a bunch of nail salons in different neighbourhoods around Sydney, and the website landing page for each was a cool illustration that looked like a single panel comic by Adrian Tomine or Dan Clowes.
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
Helping support awesome art and culture and encouraging young or new/emerging artists, musicians, makers, etc., especially in Sydney but also anywhere I have lived.
Championing great work by cool people!
If people wanted to collaborate and / or work wth you – how should they get in touch?
Probably via Instagram? I don’t know.
I am not sure why people would want to collaborate with me, but that’s flattering.
Any collaborations on the horizon?
I am working on a few things, an article for ANP Quarterly, a short piece for Acclaim online, and hopefully a few things in memorium to a friend who sadly suddenly passed away recently, Shannon Michael Cane – please donate in his honor to the Shannon Michael Cane Memorial Fund at Printed Matter.
Any major projects you want to hype?
I try to avoid talking about stuff too much in case it doesn’t happen.
Working full-time and doing writing and zines on the side is tough, especially as I have moved interstate and changed jobs a few times this year – BUT, hopefully next year, a book of interviews and a book of jokes.
I will have a table at the Melbourne Art Book Fair.
(Photos below of Wilfred’s current work-desk)