Roy Ananda is not a nerd. He may be a record collector, a role-player, a Star Wars fan, a nerd, but he is not a Juggalo.
A conversation between Logan Macdonald and Roy Ananda
Logan McDonald: Hey Roy, I guess we might use this as the beginning of the interview maybe? I still think we have to title the interview something that is 'click-bait'ish. But more importantly, we must flex our comedic chops for this interview while still creating an incisive insight into Roy Ananda just like Rock Bottom.(1)
Firstly, let’s decide the title for this endeavour. My vote for the interview/discussion title is - Roy Ananda is not a communist. He may be a liar, a pig, an idiot, a communist, but he is *not* a porn star! (esoteric I know, but maybe a handful of people who are Simpsons fans will get it and that is who we want to impress after all).
I'm also hoping this interview will just devolve into us sending gifs to each other.
Roy Ananda: Hey Logan. If we're mining The Simpsons for a title, there is perennial (if somewhat self-serving) "we like Roy" Or how about this innovative mash-up of mournful pop music and human Poochie-analogue Roy?
As we previously discussed, the idea that a conversation about the role of humour in my art practice must be funny in and of itself is slightly daunting! In fact, rather counter-intuitively, when I discuss humour in art (be it my own or in general), I often find myself taking a rather earnest tone. Sometimes this takes the form of agonising over the pleasures and pitfalls of the one-liner artwork. Sometimes it can turn into heartfelt rants about humour, whimsy, wit and play as powerful, redeeming human qualities, during which I have been known to get teary.
But getting back to the title ... I really enjoy being paraphrased into Abe Simpson's cack-handed attempt to defend his son's reputation. It could be seen to parallel the many strings to my bow - "Roy Ananda is not a nerd. He may be a record collector, a role-player, a Star Wars fan, a nerd, but he is not a Juggalo".(2)
That said, I have reservations about making the title (or indeed any part of the published conversation) too in-jokey, self-indulgent or insular. While my recent art practice (with its particular focus on pop-culture fandom) is of course riddled with in-jokes, I'm always trying to build in points of entry for audiences that are broader than the various tribes alluded to above. These points of entry include things like irony, obsession, materiality, visual puns, evidence of labour and, importantly for our purposes, a gently self-deprecating sense of humour.
Sorry, that was a bigger spray than I initially set out to write! Looking forward to your snappy comeback, you guff-talking work-slacker!
LM: Well played, Roy...
It seems that “we are through the looking glass here, people”. I do think that "Roy Ananda is not a nerd. He may be a record collector, a role-player, a Star Wars fan, a nerd, but he is not a Juggalo." is pretty apt considering the myriad of your different influences and identifications. This still doesn’t rule you out of being a Juggalo though. This would explain your hatred and lack of understanding of magnets and magnetism.(3)
I was but a lowly visual arts student the first time I came across your work. It was in 2005 at the University of South Australia’s Drawing Is Everything conference. My first impression of your practice was that it was endearing and sincere and you unabashedly identified with your influences. I remember being enthralled by your in-depth discussion of the parallels between Star Wars, sculpture and drawing processes. Was there a definitive point to start pilfering or sourcing these interests in your work?
Quite often your work makes yourself the subject of humour through your own identification. How do you navigate the creation of your work without fear of ridicule? To contextualise this question, within many subcultures (4) and even society at large denigrates ‘fanboys’ from within and across these subcultures. I must admit as an identifying fan of both Star Wars, The Simpsons (and much more) I enjoy a healthy amount of self-depreciation, even participating in similar mocking.
RA: “The year was 2005 … Sin City set a new benchmark for comic book to film adaptations, Joss Wheedon delighted and devastated fans with the conclusion to his Firefly saga (in the form of the feature film Serenity) and George Lucas delivered the worst screen villain origin story ever with Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith”.
I feel as though your trip down memory lane should be framed within the conventions of a Simpsons flashback episode, with the family gathered around the couch as Homer tells the (possibly canonical but possibly not) first meeting of Logan Macdonald and Roy Ananda.
I must say I had forgotten how much Star Wars featured in how I articulated my work at that time. Circa 2005, my practice largely consisted of process-driven sculpture concerned with physicality, materiality and what could perhaps be described as ‘formalist’ interests. This continuum of work made almost no overt references to pop-culture imagery or narratives, however, analogies from Star Wars, kung fu movies and swashbuckling adventure often featured in my verbal and written articulation of my practice. After all, if we’re trying to describe the more ineffable thought processes that often underpin art-making, what better shorthand is there than ‘The Force’?
That said, it was around this time that more explicit odes to pop-culture started to emerge in my practice. Initially these were drawing-based works that made various visual puns invoking the raucous, overstated physicality of slapstick comedy, Warner Brothers cartoons and action films. This investigation eventually yielded the solo exhibition A is for Anvil (West Space, 2006) which consisted of sculptural interpretations of well-known cartoon tropes (specifically, stars circling one’s head after a concussion, one’s heart leaping from one’s chest at the sight of a romantic interest and the peculiar physics that govern explosions in the world of Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote). In particular, I think that Concussion device marked a turning point in my practice. It was the first time that elements of fandom, humour and a self-deprecating approach to one’s own geekery are all brought together in a single work.
Depending how deeply one wants to dig, there are probably childhood incidents that contribute to current obsessions as an artist. Just as Marge’s fear of flying is rooted in traumatic incidents concerning aircraft, my propensity for bringing objects, spaces and phenomena from the worlds of fantasy, science-fiction, horror and comic book adventure could be attributed to doomed attempts to fabricate a working Bat Signal from my bedside torch and a childhood/early adolescence spent designing and inhabiting the imaginary spaces in which Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop role-playing games play out.
Turning to your other questions, I wonder if perhaps you might be slightly overstating the fear of ridicule associated with flying the nerd flag high, particularly in the current climate where, I have heard it said, it’s ‘chic to be geek’. With The Big Bang Theory (5), Stranger Things and Game of Thrones looming so large in the popular imagination, it could be argued the whole Western world is a safe space for people like us to proudly declare our passions.
However, I do think the ‘risk’ that you have identified as being associated with making such work is a rich point of discussion. To use your parlance, I think it is probably more ‘calculated’ than ‘courageous’, by which I mean I am largely concerned with getting the ratio of earnest/heartfelt to ironic/critical/self-deprecating just right. Too much earnestness and the work might be better suited to the context of DeviantArt or a stall at a pop-culture convention rather than contemporary art context in which I operate (this is not a value judgement on the validity or merit of those different platforms by the way). Too much irony and the work could become unbearably smarmy or smug.
A work like Death notice (which commemorates the death of my in-game, Dungeons & Dragons alter ego in the form of a newspaper clipping) delivers its ‘joke’ in a deadpan manner and acknowledges that by most objective standards, a man approaching forty who spends eight hours every other weekend pretending to be an elf or a wizard is something of a ridiculous conceit. In this sense, the work already gently takes the piss out of me and my gaming fam, hopefully rendering the mockery of a potentially hostile audience obsolete!
As I see it, one of the inherent risks in making work from these starting points is not so much making oneself vulnerable to being pummelled by jocks behind the bike sheds, but rather it is the risk that one makes increasingly insular work, predicated on in-jokes only to be understood by other fans. As members of a visual art audience, we have all probably encountered work that heavily relies on an understanding of a very specific theoretical reference ... if we don’t have that understanding, this can result in a very alienating or unsatisfying viewing experience. It would be equally problematic for me to make work that only spoke to audience members who know the script to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 4, Episode 10 Hush verbatim.
Tying this tangent back to our guiding principle of ‘humour’, another risk I am acutely aware of is the risk of the humorous work operating as a ‘one-liner’ (6). The notion of the visual one-liner is much maligned, sometimes deservedly and sometimes undeservedly. Let’s discuss.
LM: I enjoy how you’ve come to peace with the idea of fear or even failure as generative process within your practice. No matter how modest you are, I still think that your artistic risk taking is courageous in many ways. Your thoughts echo the wise words of Obi-Wan as you prepare for exhibition.
To continue our discussion of the ‘one liner’ as a device in both comedy and art. Ultimately, it can hook audiences for both artwork and a comedy show, but if it fails, you can single-handedly lose your audience. Many comedians cite it as being the easiest way to get laughs yet the hardest to master. I see a similarity in your practice. Many of your exhibitions or projects have an entry piece or point which could be considered a ‘one liner’ but instead begin to ‘pull back the curtain’ to the audience. You apply humour keenly, in a playful or self-depreciating way that seeks to transcend barriers for a range of audiences. Luckily, to this day, I still haven’t seen you resort to Krusty the Clown levels of desperation for a laugh in real life or in your art.
Is the concept of a work that acts as a portal to audiences for both subcultural and fictitious worlds a consideration when making? Or do you see your practice (or your role as an artist) as guide or ambassador, introducing source material and the accompanying subculture for unfamiliar audiences?
RA: The idea of an ‘entry piece’ is an interesting one and is not something I had ever consciously thought about. However, on reflection, it does seem to be a recurring feature of various bodies of work. For example, the exhibition Fan works 2015-2017 at Fontanelle Gallery (which comprised works created during my Masters research) contained some pretty esoteric, niche and, arguably, insular artefacts: a handwritten index to William Gibson’s Neuromancer, illegible annotations to a page from an H.P. Lovecraft novella and a cacophonous sound work in which three Roy Ananda’s simultaneously assailed the listener with trivia and opinions concerning Clive Barker’s Hellraiser to name a few. However, these things were perhaps moderated (or at least contextualised) by the presence of more immediately recognisable pop-culture tropes (the sound of Darth Vader breathing, continuously playing as a locked-groove vinyl record, a swashbuckling duel articulated as a kinetic sculpture and my own, homemade Bat Signal). While these works weren’t consciously conceived as entry points to the larger body of work, in retrospect they absolutely fulfilled that function.
LM: I see the suggested ‘one liners’ in your work act as enticements for people to investigate the mechanisations of a larger world that you include yourself within. For myself it was the work Hideous climb through the unfashioned realms, 2014 in The Devourer at CACSA that epitomised this. The work upon entering CACSA acted as an anchor/yardstick for audiences. This work figuratively introduced audiences to a familiar universe flipped on its back with an added unknown depth. Setting the tone for the exhibition where the works elaborated upon the vernacular of science fiction culture including references to Alien, Blade Runner, and Lovecraft. The work both augmented our understanding of known reality via the lens of sci-fi, but also pried open new understandings. This seems to reflect on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (which was more recently explored in the cult film series The Matrix resulting in a stockpile of comparative philosophy essays for purchase for university courses). With Plato’s Cave theory in mind, do you consider much of your practice as a reflection upon the rules as much as it seeks to break them (7)?
RA: I must say I have never given much thought to the allegory of Plato’s Cave in relation to my work, but I can certainly see resonances. Just as the shadows on the cave wall are ghostly imitations of real objects (which in turn are approximations of their ideal forms), so too are my fan-ish attempts to give the fictional worlds of cartoons, fantasy and science-fiction some tangible reality as objects. A work like Bat signal (in which I approximate the famous comic book apparatus with an overhead projector, a roll of garden hose and a rubber bat) is absolutely predicated on the discrepancy between mundane reality and super-heroic comic book adventure.
Turning to the idea of ‘rules’, I assume you are referring to the rules that govern the various fictional worlds that I invoke in my practice.(8) These might include the peculiar laws of physics at work in Warner Brothers cartoons or the inevitable downward spiral of death and madness that is the fate of almost every Lovecraft protagonist. I’ve always been very interested in the internal logics that govern fictional worlds and have tried to embed similar logics within my own work wherever possible.
LM: More recently you have focused on discerning and contextualising your practice as contemporary art rather than ‘fan art’. In the digital media age, this can be increasingly difficult as platforms such as Instagram and Facebook all things are presented as equal to the globe. I do wish there was a simple rule of thumb, similar to Ned Flanders cider/apple juice saying. Do you care to discuss how you’ve been navigating this gap or how you might see your practice as the cider (contemporary art) to much of the apple juice (fan art) around these days?
RA: Ned’s mnemonic is characteristically nifty and I’ve been trying to condense my thoughts into a similarly pithy format. It might be said that “if your pop-culture inspired art is purely about celebration/you might be looking at a ‘fan art’ situation” but “if your work involves a more critical tone/a contemporary art space might make you feel at home”. However, this is not really a satisfactory distinction either as ‘fan art’ is often simultaneously critical and celebratory of its source material (think slash fiction and projects like The Hawkeye Initiative). Making a distinction between (a) what might be commonly understood as ‘fan art’ and (b) contemporary visual art informed by fandom has been something of a pressing matter for over the last couple of years, being central to my Masters research project. I have been unable to arrive at any definitive demarcations, but the points of difference I could identify might be summarised as: the context of the work’s presentation, its’ communicative intent (in terms of both content and audience) and the emotional tone and attitude embedded in the work. Over the course of my Masters project, a recurring strategy to locate my work in a contemporary art context (as opposed to a fan art context), was invoking tropes, trappings and conventions of various art historical modes and movements (such as Modernism, Arte Povera, Fluxus and Conceptual Art).
LM: Finally, Mr Ananda, two quick questions but most importantly.
1. What is the funniest episode of The Simpsons?
2. The best cameo appearance on The Simpsons?
RA: Well, for sheer quantity of perfectly thought through and executed jokes it probably has to be Marge vs. the Monorail. And while getting Alan Moore to play himself was an incredible coup for the show, it's hard to go past Johnny Cash as Homer's coyote spirit guide.
Rock Bottom is a tabloid news show in The Simpsons, Rock Bottom has a pattern of missing the mark where the truth is concerned, in the interest of pursuing a sensationalized story. The show was forced to run a long list of corrections, including a retraction of its accusations against Homer. From Homer Badman, The Simpsons Season 6, Episode 9.
Miracles is a 2010 rap song by Detroit-based hip hop duo Insane Clown Posse that describes the wonders of the universe and an appreciation for nature’s beauty, while expressing skepticism towards the dogmatic nature of modern science. Upon the YouTube debut of the music video in April 2010, the song instantly went viral and garnered an ironic fandom for its abundance of quotable lyrics, most notably “fucking magnets, how do they work?”.
Note from Logan Macdonald: Don’t ever mention The Big Bang Theory; it’s not funny or cool. It’s a blight on man-kind but that’s an argument for another day.
Edit - rules of the fictitious worlds.
Note, Logan Macdonald: Yes, Roy ... I was.