Talks with Pig Slop
I first heard about Pig Slop Studios last summer when I ran into Rebecca Estee on Cherokee Street. She offered me cheap studio space because she, Zak Marmalefsky, and Chloe Bethany were about to have more than they knew what to do with. They began renting the top floor of the old Globe Drug building—not the new old one, but the old old one—and created a potential artistic home for anyone in search of one. That aura of inclusivity still pervades, even as the walls have gone up everywhere in the space—cloth walls, plywood walls, shiny new white gallery walls on wheels—that multiply Pig Slop’s functionality (although a pair of roller skates can usually be found in a corner, harkening back to those early wide-open days).
From what I can tell, Pig Slop as a music venue has a reputation for diversity and intensity, and for guaranteed dancing, even if the beat has to be searched out. But it’s a collective of artists as much as it is a space (Zak Marmalefsky is as much Pig Slop as the floor he dances on when there’s a show), which became clear when they went mobile last February for Fort Slop, their group show at Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts just up the street. I asked the artists about the making of that particular show frequently in the talks that are documented below, largely because I was so moved by the quiet dialogue the seven artists’ (frequently loud) works seemed to be having about domestic space. The show presented possibilities as opposed to answers, and therefore fell among the ranks of those few great teachers. On the too-warm false-spring evening of its opening I felt sure the sun was a camera and our pocket technologies were merely gestural.
These four talks all occurred in true spring, at the end of April, and much is left out here. Rebecca, Zak, Jonathan, Irene, and Chloe each told many warm and funny stories, but I wanted to capture their passions and intentions, and their tooth-sparkle, more than a coherent narrative of Pig Slop. The accompanying photos are from the recent 2-day-long Temporary Fort Project that Pig Slop Studios hosted as part of the 3rd annual Chautauqua Art Lab. On the second night, after an open call for materials and efforts generated an indoor fort on the first, a series of short films was shown at its center. I wandered through the fort during the viewing,curious about childhood and nostalgic for the future, and snapped a few shots of Pig Slop the place and Pig Slop the people.
Rebecca Estee and Zak Marmalefsky
R: I think at least for me this was kind of about what you can do with your home…. I hope to do this even if I’m in a one-bedroom house somewhere.
Z: Mostly we have a really big space. That was kind of what we had going into it. People are excited about ways to use big space. There’s nothing new or exciting about art galleries or concert things or DIY spaces.
Z: I really like dancing, and live music as a thing separate from being into a certain genre or following bands or thinking something is cool. I don’t want to listen to live music without dancing.
R: I think here everybody is a pretty big dancer. I’d say all of us are pretty different people, but that’s one thing that’s universal.
Z: I think that might be the only common ground that all of us share. It’s come up before. We all watched Step Up 3 together, in which there’s a dance crew that lives in a cool warehouse space, and we talked about how that’s really what we should start doing.
Z: Things would have been different without Chloe. Within five days, we had two events. I don’t know if everyone knew us in the neighborhood, but everyone knew Chloe. I feel like that’s probably played a big part in it, her being very sweet and pushy and physical. “Everyone has to be here, why aren’t you here yet?”
Things would have been different without Chloe.
Within five days, we had two events.
Z: We did a lot of face painting with Juan and Erin (of Cherokee Photobooth) for their Halloween photo booth pictures, so we spent a lot of time with kids, and with the faces of small children in the neighborhood, and also non-children. That was a nice early moment.
R: We haven’t done much beyond that, doing things that were family-friendly, and it was really nice to be involved and out in the street all day…. As an entity, we have a certain amount of social cache—we get invited to do things, we could fundraise for things a little bit more successfully than we could as individuals. That’s something I’d like to see more of in the future.
R: I might be naïve, but I think everybody that lives here and has been working here overall tries to be mindful of the fact that there are complicated relationship dynamics and that it’s complicated that it’s a privilege to get to use this space in this way…. We’re not always successful at being welcoming, but we’re always actively trying to be inclusive even if we’re not doing that good of a job of it, but not ever shutting the door on anything. I also think another common thing we all share beyond dancing and dogs is a love of Saint Louis, and that’s something I really dig that I get to do when touring bands come through.
Z: Talk up Saint Louis.
R: Yeah, talk up Saint Louis, take ‘em to the Buttery, make ‘em go to Crown Candy the next day.
Z: John Do-nut.
R: I feel like we’ve had a lot of doughnut moments.
Z: [Fort Slop] mostly came out of pizza. Chloe and I, but mostly Chloe, curating the show at the pizza place where she works, arranging stuff. I know that I’m into a certain kind of wall hanging. Chloe and I, maybe I’m going out on a limb, but I feel like our hanging aesthetics rhymed to a certain extent, and that was pretty nice, and I think that carried over to the Fort Slop show. I’m not trying to put it all on me and Chloe, but I feel like there were definitely some people who would agree with that, but that it suffered for that reason. Jonathan [Muehlke] and Aaron [Bos-wahl] have pretty different aesthetics, and we kind of bullied them into how it was hung…. In a very literal sense, I like art and I like to see stuff, and I’m old fashioned in the sense that I get disappointed sometimes, because there aren’t that many galleries and there aren’t that many shows, when there isn’t that much stuff, physical stuff, to see.
R: We had a lot of talks about grandiose plans and moneymaking schemes. Miniature ponies and circus rides might have been mentioned a lot at the beginning, but in general I think it was pretty humble.
I’d go to the library and I’d write for maybe 8 hours and then I’d come home and there’d be a concert of maybe 300 people. So, you’d be in this sort of extreme monastic silence writing about art, and then you’d come home and then there’s like a party right outside your room. It was this really surreal experience, but really fun, because then I’d just take off my glasses, put in my contacts, you know, do my little warm-ups, and then get ready to dance.
I’m a lot more open to letting text come into my painting and start dialogue. Earlier, I was more interested in the autonomy of painting…. Everyone loves a good story, and why can’t that become part of your painting…. This painting I’m working on right now surprised me because it’s so structured, it’s so disciplined, and it’s very different from the way I was painting a year ago, and it’s the largest painting I’m working on now. Almost like I’m trying to take back my life from these authors.
Zak originally came up with the name, and it was totally spontaneous and arbitrary, which is great because that’s something special that you can do in art, and the most insignificant thing, the hinge… you know, the universe can hinge on it.
I’m 27 now, and I started painting when I was 16, and when you first start painting, you have a lot of friends that paint, and slowly less and less of your friends continue painting. Because it’s really hard, you know? And so I’m getting older and older and I’m seeing less and less people who are able to sustain their art careers, and at a certain point, it was like the only way to continue painting I think for me was to really regard it to be something really special and important and devotional, because that’s the only way you’re going to continue making work.
I feel like I work best when it’s kind of a chaotic shell that I can carve out a calm nook from. Coming in here, and it being this column of grids, or grid of columns, and then carving out my situation here—it was a nice moving in process.
What happens when you have a set of rules? My rules were that I wanted to weave something over this frame and have it glow. What happens when you have that set of rules and you let the chaos of making dictate what actually ends up happening? I thought it was funny, because I love color, and I love the explosion of color and chaos that feels like a lot of what Pig Slop is about, and I made this piece that’s metallic plastic glowing white, and it contrasted in a really entertaining way for me with the other stuff that was in the show and also with how I identify as a creator. I’m in architecture school right now and I feel surrounded by all this clean metallic plastic, this aesthetic that I really try to fight against.… There’s this ongoing joke about landscape architects who are maybe just hired to decorate the architecture at the end, like ‘shrub it up,’ just add shrubs to make it look nice. So coming to a show at the end and decorating it at the end with plants was a funny joke I really hoped some of my teachers would come and appreciate. I don’t know if they did.
I define landscape super broadly as your experience of being. Insides are landscapes. Outsides are landscapes.
The light comes in from the exterior walls and you’re naturally drawn to light, so everyone has put their studios and kind of walled off the windows, so the common space in the middle is slightly darker. We’ve all staked out our claim to light. What we’ve done with the middle now is we’ve got the art gallery, and there’s some logic to having it be there, but I don’t know how intentional that was. That’s the biggest physical change to the space—that walls came up, and in a medieval sort of way. No one had exactly taken a floor plan and decided how much space would be allotted to what and in what way.
I think there’s something about being around other creative people that is really important. Now I’ve lived in lots of different types of communal living situations, and this one is less of that and more about creating in a common space…. Unlike other situations, I came into a place that had a vision already, and I just let that vision happen, and I’ve never been that hands off in a place like this before, but I think over the summer…
For me, Pig Slop as a name is both what I love about it and what makes it seem like an insurmountable mess of things.
I think Pig Slop as a force has freed me in a lot of ways, because, just physically speaking—the size of the space and its lack of walls—everything inside of it can be rearranged in any way that I want. I feel like I’m playing house inside of a house. It’s weird to be able to determine and re-determine the shape and nature of a room whenever you want. It’s like being inside and outside at the same time.
In some ways Zak’s paintings can be like painting an object as much as a picture plane. That kind of process—which can be really seductive, in terms of color and all that—of making art according to aesthetic intuition versus what I was used to and what had been productive for me in college: starting with an idea or a question, investigating much more in the round because it was sculpture, and much more in the round because most of the time the things I was interested in making art about or the things I was interested in about art were its ability to be in the same place or space or dimension as me… I really like looking at paintings but it also drives me crazy that they just end, that they’re just a rectangle…. The push and pull between intuition and trying to actually think about things…
Mostly I don’t know what’s going on ever until it’s happening, and so in a way it seems like a joke to go to this other town and see how this other thing is happening. Because the whole thing about anything like this—and also spaces like this are famously short-lived—every day is a new Etch-a-Sketch, and it gets shaken and you realize nothing was settled anyway, that it was never not shaken.
every day is a new Etch-a-Sketch
I felt well represented by the whole thing. I liked the room that it made, and I remember saying when it was happening it made our art look like they were friends. Not that you can tell that we are friends by looking at our art but that our art was friendly on the wall.
It’s also a luxury to be able to do this, and I wish that weren’t the case.