It’s easy to get lost in Exploded Hipster, made from clothing donated by the music community of the Triangle, at the entrance wall of the exhibition Area 919: Artists in the Triangle. Each piece of clothing has a story, as we recently learned from artists Lincoln Hancock and Neill Prewitt, who both live and work in Raleigh.
“Neill and I have done a number projects together over the past five to seven years, and even before that,” Lincoln told us. “We’ve actually known each other since we were about 12, and we’ve worked together in a musical context and in bands. Our art practices sort of grew out of this relationship with music and just being engaged with making things and creating situations that would allow us to engage with the world in different ways, and Yuxtapongo was a project that Neill founded in 2008.”
Neill told us a bit about Yuxtapongo (pronounced yooks-tah-PON-go).
“Yuxtapongo was originally a local public access television show that I started in 2008 and it was a monthly show, broadcast throughout the Triangle,” Neill said. “And so there were deadlines, you know, one after another, and I invited local musicians and video artists to contribute and the word about the show grew and I invited more and more people and it grew into this collaborative project. We grew from doing public access TV to doing installation work, originally involving video and then moving into other materials. And so, all along, what made a Yuxtapongo project was always that is was collaboratively produced and that it typically involved music as well as visual art in some way. As we moved more and more into installation, that idea of collaborative production and a rotating cast of people.”
“I think with backgrounds in music, collaboration has come really naturally to us,” Lincoln said. “I mean musically, it’s usually not just about your individual vision. It’s about working with other people to create something that is bigger, and I think for both of us, as we began to step out into doing larger products as artists, collaborating was sort of a source of strength and confidence. We knew that we could brainstorm and we could call other people into help execute ideas. We could keep focused on the idea and worry less about how to get it done because we knew that we could work with others to accomplish the vision for these projects.”
“That’s a good way to put it, yeah,” Neill said. “There are a lot of talented people around here. We’re lucky to know a lot of them and it’s a blast to collaborate with people.”
We asked Neill and Lincoln to talk about how Exploded Hipster came about.
“We conceived of and first executed this project in 2012 at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, to live for three days during the Hopscotch Music Festival,” Lincoln said. “So it was very much a site-specific project in which we knew where it was going to be, we knew the context of the audience, we knew when it was going to be encountered, and taking all that into consideration, we really wanted it to be of that audience. We wanted it to be of that moment. We wanted it to speak to that site and to that context, which is a context we also have personal relationship with, obviously. So what we’re looking at is sort of a portrait of the Triangle music community, broadly considered, so these are garments that have been contributed by musicians, by fans of area bands, by people who are running record labels or engineering sound at clubs or recording records, everyone who sort of makes this music scene work in one way or another.”
“We specifically put out a call for people to contribute clothes that meant something to them and had some significance to the local music scene,” Neill said. “We would talk about this piece as an expressive archive or something. … So it can be read in some way as not definitive, but an archive of the local music scene, but it’s also expressive in how we’ve worked with it. What the clothes are doing, they’re pulling, they’re being pulled, they’re stretching, they’re exploding out of the wall.”
“So we’re definitely trying to respond to the particular materials we’re working with,” Lincoln said. “And I think this piece functions in a couple of different ways. So on the one hand, it’s reflecting, celebrating a particular community. On the other hand, it is asking some critical questions about the relationship of outward appearance to inner identity in this community because this community is a community that does value individuality, authenticity, personal expression, and often sees that expression as manifest through these garments. So, what is the actual relationship of these garments to the people who wear them? How do we use these things to call attention to ourselves as individuals, but also belonging to this particular subculture, you know? I’m a musician. I’m part of this. You can speak about the band whose name is on my chest or we can talk about something else, but I’ve got my own point of view, my own perspective, but for people outside of this community. Maybe they kind of see it in a different way, so just we wanted to sort of tug at that relationship.”
“The people outside of this community seeing it in a different way is interesting to me,” Neill said. “I think that’s what we’re interested in about the word ‘hipster,’ that it’s, you know, it’s a derogatory term. It’s used to dismiss people a lot of times and I mean, Linc and I grew up in a time when alternative became this like genre of music that major music labels took on.”
“It became a commodity to market to young people, this type of music that had, maybe, at one time an underground connection or revolutionary potential,” Lincoln said.
“Yeah, Linc and I grew up in a time when the alternative genre became a marketed-to genre, and I think hipster has similar connections,” Neill said. “You can buy hipster clothes. You can look at someone and say, oh, what a hipster, but what if you dig into a community that really has grown up in a place from people making their own music and their own music and their own visual and their own culture that from the outside, people could say that’s a hipster, but there’s real substance there, and there’s real culture there.”
“So the piece is called Exploded Hipster,” Lincoln said. “We’re taking a shot at this idea, you know, so we’re literally trying to explode this concept, but we’re also sort of trying to map it, to pull it apart, like an exploded diagram, for instance where you sort of look at the constituent pieces and how they fit together and sort of ask what’s really there. What really makes this thing─and obviously the garments are only a part of this but they’re the outward signifier of a person’s relationship to this notion.”
“So we’re just negotiating how these garments can be installed to sort of evoke this idea of an explosion that’s emanating from one particular source,” Lincoln said. “You literally see, perhaps, bodies, limbs, articles of clothing flying through the air, you know. We wanted these things to be in motion, dynamic, expressive.”
We asked Lincoln and Neill to talk about the conversation that takes place during installation.
“So it’s really interesting,” Lincoln said. “Some of your traditional aesthetic concerns about composition, color, figure ground, all those things that a painter would think about for instance, I mean, these are things that we’re thinking about with these materials that might be a little more unassuming. One of our questions when we started to think about the project was the idea of like piled laundry on the floor, like if you’re just throwing things into the corner, what does that end up looking like? Some of our initial explorations had to do with that kind of more casual explosion of these materials, and we wanted to take that vertical onto a wall, for instance, or into a space. If there actually was an explosion and you captured it in a freeze frame, what would these things look like as they’re hurdling through the air?”
“This is a frozen portrait of that kind of explosion, trying to create that sense of movement from left to right across the piece,” Neill said. “Of things that are more layered along at the center of the explosion and sort of go out from there.”
The work is about performance in the audience rather than performance on stage.
“It’s the performance and the community at large,” Neill said. “What ends up being fetishized is the moment on stage and the band, but it’s everyone around that. They’re dancing. Again, that’s not a hipster thing to say, they’re dancing, but yeah, they’re dancing. Absolutely.”
“I think also that’s important that the original installation was about a site-specific inhabitance of this place where a concert was happening, a performance,” Lincoln said. “There were thousands of people in this room with the piece, but we realize that that was not all there was to this. We wanted to also look at the piece as a formal presentation of these materials as this expressive archive that is worth considering in and of itself.”
“And if you think of Yuxtapongo as an art band, which I enjoyed arriving at that together,” Neill said, “you know, we are inherently interested in not just what happens on the stage at the gig, right? But in the community around that production and the people who make the posters, the people who are designing and making the T-shirts. Everything that makes the community of music and art, that is what maybe justifies the whole idea of the art band, that there’s something more than just music and performing on stage and the lights. This is an entire creative community.”
“Some of our greatest contributions to this piece are things that people have kept and people have collected themselves and not been able to part ways with,” Neill said. “So in a way this is like contributing to something that’s larger than a thrift store donation in some ways, like maybe this is like sending your clothes off to a particular kind of heaven.”
“The original audience, we knew, would be members of this community,” Lincoln said. “But now it’s being seen by a much broader audience. Members of the community might have particular ways into the narrative structure of the piece, I mean, there’s so many stories that are connected to particular garments on that wall. I think for someone who maybe is approaching this from an outside perspective, there’s also like there’s a kind of visual energy to it. There is that common connection through the approachability of the materials. There are things that are funny to look at, funny to read. There are jokes that I think just about anyone can get. There’s color. There’s animated movement. We’ve enjoyed a lot of appreciation of the aesthetics as well as people knowing something about individual pieces and saying like, oh I have that shirt, I was at that show, or that is my shirt.”
“Yeah that is my shirt,” Neill said. “What the hell are you doing with my shirt?”
Find out more about Exploded Hipster work in this video. Portrait of Lincoln Hancock (right) and Neill Prewitt by J Caldwell.