Kim Gordon

by Matthew Bedard

You Asked for a Performance and You've Been given One
The sun burns a layer of smog into a rich pink tapestry, certain factions ready for the GRAMMYs, and Kim Gordon is currently located in California. Last week, when I called her up and asked if she might create a Part 2 for her bound cover artwork, a removable top sheet that corresponded with her painting below—“In memory of Ron and Scott Asheton”—she considered the issue theme “location” and then said, “I’m thinking about Detroit and Iggy.” Gordon, basically, went back to her roots, to the core influence of what she would go on to do and become—a founding member of no wave act Sonic Youth, a designer, a visual artist, and a soon-to-be-published memoirist.

Gordon’s roots, too, are tied up in Dan Graham, an art luminary, who shares Flaunt’s cover art duties this time around with Gordon, and who will be honored alongside her at this year’s annual Kitchen Spring Gala in New York City in May.

After moving to New York in her mid-20s, Gordon shared a house with Graham, who had a good decade’s worth of experience on her. Graham’s affinity for punk rockers and his range of socially responsive artworks—including those of the suburban order—inspired Gordon. He became somewhat of an enabler. Overlap in the two’s repertoire might be seen in Gordon’s paintings that appropriate thrift-store wreaths intended for middle-American tract homes.

There’s also Graham’s influence on the interplay between performer and audience, a distinction of Gordon’s work with Sonic Youth, obviously (Gordon said in a 2009 talk at MOCA that Graham had introduced her to no wave) but also seen in her paintings featuring noise bands—her Part 1 cover painting features Gordon at work on a Stooges creation. In her new book, Girl in a Band: A Memoir, out today by way of Dey Street Books, a HarperCollins imprint, Gordon remarks of Graham:

More than once Dan Graham had told me it wasn’t enough to be an artist in a studio, because the next obvious step was a gallery, and then what? No, he said, artists have a responsibility to contribute to a bigger, more daring cultural dialogue. “Kim, you should write something,” Dan suggested, adding that if I wasn’t preparing for or exhibiting a show, then writing was the next-best way to get my brain out into the larger New York art community. At the time Dan himself was writing articles about girl groups, like the Slits, and going around making authoritative declarations about feminism. Like most guys, he was just a big fan of female sexuality. “You’re going out to see things,” he added, “and you’re obviously getting something out of it—so you have to give something back.”

Gordon is clearly in a place where she’s giving back, sharing her story. Here she speaks to personal and artistic resilience, the impact of performance, and seeing through the chatter around her book release.

Can you describe a location that’s recently been inspirational to you?

It’s hard to say. I really like my studio in Northampton. I don’t think I could have such an amazing space in New York, which is what deters me from wanting to move there. So, in that sense, it’s inspiring, though I’m not inspired by Northampton. When I work I like to listen to music a lot so it creates an atmosphere for concentrating and becomes its own location.

In an interview with Dan Graham this weekend, he mentioned that alienation is a misconception of his work. Is alienation present in your work?

Not particularly. I’m interested in the audience and performer, which is something that Dan really influenced me on.

In the cover painting you created, you’re featured in it as a performance artist, but you’re behind the creation of the image of yourself—something perhaps unique to your new work. Can you speak to the layers at play here?

Yeah the paintings I was doing were names of noise bands that don’t exist anymore in the way that they were originally formed. That painting of The Stooges on the cover is now becoming crumpled—its next phase is that it becomes a sculpture—sort of like a crumpled, soft form.

And then as far as the second piece to your cover—the issue’s top sheet—where you wrote about Iggy Pop… What’s your relationship with that moment in time?

I have a film of the festival, and it’s like that classic Iggy moment, this super dramatic moment where you don’t really know what he’s doing, he’s just freaking out. And the announcer calls him “the lead Stooge” or something. It’s an amazing, iconic performance, the way he’d have this intervention with the audience, breaking the barrier of the performer and the audience and the technology of sound.

Can you define what resilience means to you?

To be fluid with things that come into your life. Just being accepting, and going in another direction, or working out a way to make things constructive.

You’ve been a performer for so long; likely growing accustomed to audience reaction or impact. Are a different set of nerves at play with the release of the memoir?

Yeah, I’m nervous I suppose, but I’m not trying to pay too much attention to all the promo I’ve been doing—or Twitter, because you don’t really know. I mean I’m happy that people seem to like the book, and it’s kind of a drag when someone will review it and just focus on the break-up, or something like that, because it will make it seem that that’s what it’s about, but it’s really just a part of my story.

Do you have a favorite section or something that means something special to you within the book?

I mean, I really like the part about Los Angeles.

Excerpt from Girl in a Band: A Memoir by Kim Gordon. Copyright © Kim Gordon, 2015. Courtesy Dey Street Books.