You want soft things
You need soft things
You'll get soft things"
Archinect arranged and I have met with Mark Mothersbaugh of
DEVO one afternoon last month to see if there is any possible story about
his rug show at Scion Gallery in Culver City and the conversation
turned into an interview.
The rugs in the show came in different sizes and were titled, RUGS
during Wartime and Peacetime commenting on popular culture, world
affairs, society in general and their mutations thereof.
His rugs in both 'times' contained themes, scenes, characters, stories
and vibrant colors on them. They were generated from Mothersbaugh's
color drawings and fabricated with nylon piles during Wartime and wool
during Peacetime. They are priced at 4x6 $850, 22"x34" $275 and up for
Not that I don't know about the work and music of
Mr. Mothersbaugh, I looked up to refresh my facts and numerical
references. I quickly thought of my "do and don't go in-to-it"
interview pre planning as usual.
This was my first interview with a music star. I have talked to famous musicians before, but no interviews. He is someone who gathered and played music to millions of people face-to-face, figured out ways to impact their developments and helped them "evolve," while oxymoronically, de-evolving. Music was the medium, and they beamed out a lot of messages.
But now, his marketing division thought an architectural publication
like Archinect would boost the rug sales, carry the news to the hi-end
real estate market, thus spread the commentary to the architectural
sphere and to residential customers.
When I thought of that, I said to myself,
"Sure, what if I get his fan base read the article and buy some tee
shirts to extra-sponsor my feature. If he wants to sell rugs, I'll
sell Archinect tee shirts," by wearing one to the meeting.
Coincidentally, Mark Mothersbaugh as an artist who wants to sell rugs
to architects and yours truly is marketing designer tee shirts with
underlying political messages ..., to his fans.
If I was going to sellout, this was a good time...
Initially, I wanted to meet at the Century City Plaza so we could talk
about corporate American architecture and public space.
When they refused the Century City location, I realized that I was
mainly contacted to further buzz the art show.
When a press campaign takes off for a well-known figure, many
publications and bloggers line up for 10 minute interviews for the
fame content. I have seen it all before.
I was not about to be a paparazzi journalist standing in the line for
the ten minute interviews to promote and only to promote, and ask
questions like, what did he have for breakfast or if the carpets were
I asked could we meet in the nice lounge/patio bar area in the back of
the gallery and I needed an hour.
Here we go;
OA- Rugs and architecture. What is that relationship?
MM- I have modern house. It is wood floors and bare furnishings. I
think the rugs are complimentary to that image. I really use my
rugs—in fact there are a couple of them that came out from my house in
the show and they are stained with my kid spilling things on it etc.
OA- They also look fine on the wall as tapestries.
MM- Yeah, but I will also put them on the floor with some furniture
over them so people think of them as real carpets and not just some
pieces of art on the wall.
I was just going to ask him if he has been to Persia but right then
his musical toned cellphone rang.
"I am not gonna take it."
I say, "Go ahead take it, I don't care."
"It must be Britney Spears."
"Hello. O my god, Britney? What's going on? I thought it was you.
Okay... You're not in jail, are you? Good, stay out of jail. Practice
your singing... OK bye..."
"Is that really she?"
Followed by big laughter.
"How many telephone calls you get every day?"
I like this already...
OA- Your music, more precisely DEVO, had a lot of political messages
and insurgency to inject into the popular culture. Do you still make
your social de-evolutionary commentary in today's context?
MM- You know what's kind of strange, back in when we first started, we
were trying to make sense of what we thought was going around us. And
we decided that we were watching not evolution but de-evolution. So we
decided to deal with that in any art form possible. People were really
angry at us in 70's saying, "You guys have bad attitudes and you are
OA- I am sure they were threatened...
MM- Yeah. And now thirty years later, you talk about de-evolution to
somebody, they go, "Oh yeah, things are screwed up aren't they?" The
sad thing now is, everything is going the way we were talking about.
Things are falling apart. People are more stupid than they use to be.
Kids know less than they use to know. They have less information than
they use to have. They are less qualified to vote. At least in the
United States. I can't talk about the whole world...
OA- Well, I am a dual culture person, as they say, and I can assure
you it is similar everywhere. Just don't mention United States
anymore, just say, "shopping mall" and everyone understands what that
MM- You know, it is frightening to me how the fundamentalists came to
a forefront and are taking away the world from the people who have
rational thought who believe in science and empirical evidence. It's
like fundamentalists on every side. It doesn't matter what kind of
fundamentalism you are talking about, they are all dangerous, whether
or not it's Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim etc.—they are in control
of the media and through that they control what we think every day.
They have ruined my airports. I hate going to airports now.
These are the scariest people who think, "what I think is the only
important thing and I am the only person who is right."
OA- As Slavoj Zizek points out, "fundamentalists don't 'believe', they
OA- You went to school at Kent State right around time when
the shootings took place. I was a junior high student in Turkey and
that was a big influence in my development as a teenager. I read about
it in the newspapers and I wanted to come here to join the fight.
OA- Yes. It was just like that. Unrealistic but true.
MM- Right after that, America fell to sleep. I think it is harder now
to be a dissident anywhere in the world because technology made it so
frightening. It is so easy to single people out, cellphones for
instance; What a great thing cellphones are, people can communicate
with each other in Amazons, but it also allows Big Brother to listen
to your conversation. It is so easy to single people out.
OA- Well, don't get me start on that. I get singled out a lot.
Basically, anybody who says anything that is not majority speak, gets
singled out. We, as a society, simply became that. I mean that you get
singled out but not in a nice way...
I notice at this moment that we are running into common areas and the
chat is turning into a chorus. I decide to pull out my
OA- Are you aware of what is called Cannibal Manifesto? It came out of
Brazil in late twenties as a way to fend of colonialist tendencies in
a nutshell. Are you aware of that?
MM- No, but it sounds really interesting. I am interested in
cannibalism because around the year 2000 I read this article in New
York Times about the cannibals in Borneo. Exactly on the New Years Eve
when everybody was worrying about Y2K and thinking that their
computers were going to crash, these guys came out of jungle in Borneo
and start chopping off peoples' heads . . . I remember like 175 heads
or something in front of the Toyota pickup. That is what they were
doing for the millennium. I was thinking, "Yeah the progress isn't
linear, it jumps, turns around and everything."
Which headhunters are you talking about?
OA- Tupi or not Tupi...
At that point, I explain the situation as best as I can around the
Manifesto and its Dadaist connections. I roll out the copy I made of
the Cannibal Manifesto out of my pocket and handed it to him. He reads the
line out loud and we both burst into laughter.
The line reads;
"I am only interested in what's not mine..."
He says out loud, "This is very DEVO!"
I say, "I thought you'd enjoy it... "
He reads another line, "We never admitted the birth of logic," and
adds, "This is really good."
I gift the copy to him.
OA- You might not know but architecture is a very conservative field
in general. You go in front of thousands of people, do your music, say
what you have to say, and nobody can really stop you. In a way, I see
some kind of infiltration to peoples' homes with these rugs and send
subversive messages or, let's say, allow homeowners to send messages
of subversive nature to their guests, am I close?
MM- That's right, this is 'subversive home front invasion.'
OA- Do you mind if I title my article that?
MM- No, not at all, I was calling my art shows with that name and when
people were doing searches for 'home security', I was getting a lot of
hits in the internet because of that title.
OA- Home front invasion... We need architects to include elements like
that in their programs. I hope they start to work phrases like that
into their thinking... Hmm... How effective is your work, after all
MM- You know, there are different kinds of artists but I think a lot
of artists make their statement when they are young and through their
life they develop permutations of that. I think I am still doing the
work I was doing in the 70's which was, in my own way, talking about
the de-evolution. I am kind of anti-stupidity, pro-information and I
think people should make educated decisions about what mutations to
allow into their lives. I am there to disseminate whatever I can, so
people can make educated decisions and not allow themselves to do what
so and so tell them to do.
OA- That is like being effective on a personal level...
MM- You can also be subversive. For instance I did this thing with
DEVO called DEVO 2.0 which we did for Walt Disney TV. We cast five
kids who learned how to play twelve DEVO songs and they sang the
lyrics. DEVO songs are great for the kids. They are not like Beatles
songs, like, I am in love, my girlfriend is mine, and stuff like that.
I mean John Lennon wrote some great songs but most of their music was
kind of Valentine's Day songs... Anyway, some songs we've choose for
2.0 were about issues but Disney lawyers said, "oh no uncontrollable urge, no no, it is too much about sex." I told them "no it is not
about sex, it is about the compulsion to do something and do something
right, the need to be inspired." They wanted us to rewrite some of the
lyrics. And they wanted to turn the
'uncontrollable urge' to something like a kid having a "snack attack"... First I
thought, we can't do this, it sounds stupid, then I realized, wait a
minute, what's gonna happen is,
five year-old kids are gonna listen to this and they will grow up and
one day, they are gonna be curious and they will listen the original
DEVO words and say, "Disney didn't want us to hear the original words,
what are they?" And that will make everything they changed even more
important. They didn't even want little silly minor things like
saying, "freedom of choice," lawyers went ahead and circled things
like that. At the end, I think it put DEVO in kids' radar screen.
OA- That is a very preemptive subversion I'd say... It is better than
singing to bunch of forty years olds. Talking about effectiveness...
Good job. Subversion is the only effective way to fight the present
order of things, in my opinion.
MM- Yeah. You have to. One thing we learned from the hippies was that
rebellion was obsolete. Hippies turned into safe little yuppies, and
punks turned into safety pin wearing paraphernalia consumers. You
can't fight the system head-to-head. It is like, "I fought the law and
the law won." They will kick your butt each time.
OA- Systems also developed very sophisticated ways for marginalizing
MM- Very. That's what they did to DEVO. They tried to treat us like
clowns. "Look at their silly yellow suits, and they are just wacky."
OA- Though, you guys were brilliant at turning that around and giving
right back to them. I always thought that was the maximum DEVO effect.
Sort of like "Tupi or not Tupi." I have seen some very great
appearances by you guys on TV talk show circuit back then and you've
worked all those cartoonish nuances seamlessly while making the hosts
think that they were crushing you on national TV. They were beautifully choreographed scripts on your part. I guess it has to do with your formal fine arts education and
MM- Thank you. I think so.
OA- How do you look at architecture?
MM- I took architecture when I was in school. I was very interested in
architecture. I wanted to be an architect but I don't think I could do
it. I can design and stuff but I think architecture is much more than
OA- Yes it is. Thank you. Hmm, here is my card, if you know anybody
who needs an architect. I am licensed. Anyway seriously, it has a lot
to do collaborations with others and larger teams etc. Probably
similar to musical production.
MM- In music, record companies want you to be egotistical and selfish
so they can manipulate the situation better. We were lucky because
DEVO is two sets of brothers which keeps us together pretty well. That
closeness allows us to collaborate pretty well. If any of us write a
song, all others help to write it. We always share our publishing so
we would not have the problems other bands have ie; David Byrne with
Talking Heads because he wrote all the songs, stuff like that.
OA- Speaking of David Byrne, it is interesting that DEVO and Talking
Heads have a lot of similarities timing wise. Who came first?
MM- It is about the same time. I know David and he knows us. We have
similar influences. When I was a student, I liked Andy Warhol.
The Factory was about solving problems. It was about solving artistic
and conceptual problems and it didn't matter what medium you worked
in. I thought how great, you get to be a painter, photographer,
printmaker, fashion designer, filmmaker, music producer, party
thrower. That's when I thought I like to work about not one thing but
'ideas.' When we signed with Richard Branson he promised us to start a film company, we were going to do political movies. Instead of doing stuff about drugs and fashion
and stuff, we were going to do films about... Mmm.
MM- Yeah, exactly. As a matter of fact, the song 'Smart Patrol' was originally called "Smart Proletarian" but it was too hard to sing so we changed 'proletarian' to 'patrol.'
OA- Do you write the ideas together?
MM- Yeah, it is really collaborative. We are starting another album
right now after twenty-five years of not doing a DEVO album.
OA- Again the collaborative similarities between the architecture and
what you are doing. Like architecture, somebody brings an idea to the
table and everybody works on it to make it happen and realized.
MM- I think most tortured architects are the ones who want to control
OA- I don't understand why they do that. It is not interesting to
design an entire building, a large process, all by yourself. Setting
the whole thing back another century like in Ayn Rand's super heroic
Fountainhead guy—how the hell he can save the world? It is stupid,
selfish and uninteresting.
MM- Yeah. Some of the best filmmakers are the ones who are
collaborative. Somebody like Wes Anderson for example. He should be credited for writing some of the film scores with me. He comes to the studio with me and will start to play notes while I am writing. It is really interesting that way.
OA- I wish I had a project that I could hire you to work with me on
the architectural project. Let's say I have a project and I asked you
to work with me on it, how would you work, how would you want to
engage yourself with it?
MM- Well I'd like to work with sound. Because there are technologies
right now that you can make sound an architectural element. You can
treat the sound as important as light, as far as architectural space
goes. The sound is a very spatial element. It affects the shape and it
affects the building experience you are in.
OA- I saw a house somewhere where the architects brought outside sound
into the space and moved it around.
MM- Brian Eno was a genius to do the Music for Airports, I think. It is
his greatest work.
OA- I think there is a huge potential for environmental music and how
it defines the space. Again, one more thing for architects to
incorporate into space and I don't mean it as sound insulation, which
is the usual appearance of sound issue in architectural designs and
MM- We used to write Muzak when we first started. It was inspired by
our first tours where our sound engineer who was given to us by
typical road managers before we had our own crew and these people used
to play Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty etc. before the concert. I go, "Man,
you can't do that to DEVO fans." Anyway we started to write our own
ambient Muzak after that. So we had Muzak versions of our songs. In
fact, I think I am going to use it for the opening of the rug show.
Another idea I have is to install four ghetto blasters on each corner
to play different music all at once but they won't let me do it.
OA- I think you should do it. I like it a lot.
MM- Don't worry, I will, in a different show.
OA- Thanks. This has been enjoyable...
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