Q&A with Graham Downing and Max Kraushaar

Last night, artists Graham Downing and Max Kraushaar hosted a "nationwide pentagram phone tree ceremony" at Blindfold Gallery. In between tarot readings, spell-casting and munching on black deviled eggs and pentagram-decorated goat cheese tortes, the art team duo hovered over a wax-spattered alter in the low-lit, packed gallery and summoned some (ostensibly) dark powers by setting their cell phones on speaker and dialing up friends across the country. Each of these subsequently dialed other colleagues on speakerphone, forming via the assistance of satellites what Downing and Kraushaar speculated might be the largest pentagram ever. Poets Kate Lebo, Bill Carty and Adam Boehmer read incantations while phones crackled with ghastly, incomprehensible feedback. I wanted to question the artists about their recent work, but realized the conversation might be better left in their hands.

Graham Downing and Max Kraushaar conduct a Q&A with each other via Google chat from 12:45-2:23 AM on Wednesday, December 5, 2012, about their exhibit HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE IN THAT GRAVEYARD? ALL OF THEM.

Graham: Why do you think the occult is still a taboo subject?
 Sent at 12:45 AM on Wednesday

Max:  I think the occult is more accepted now than it has ever been because people are taking it as an aesthetic, but at it's core the occult is counter-culture. As an aesthetic though it's becoming funnier, I think, which is pushing "true believers" to take things deeper. More into the "real." What are the roots of the show? How long have you/we been thinking in this direction?

(above: Adam Boehmer reading an incantation during the nationwide pentagram phone tree ceremony)

Graham:  I think this show really started to develop when I moved in to your garage. Everything just felt creepier during that time.

Graham:  I think we both love the paranormal and have a mutual interest in it. It became so that everywhere we were looking, there it was. Whether it was online paranormal videos or actually going to cemeteries, it just became a big part of us hanging out. It only made sense to do a show about it. When do you think we will sell out?

Max:  I plan on selling out within the next year, hopefully, so that I can spend some time really finding myself and then get back to being not sold out. But real talk: I don't think that "selling out" happens as long as you're only making work you are stoked about.

Graham:  Stoked. Like a fireplace.

Max:  We've never made a thing and showed it to people unless it has made us laff.

Graham:  I dont think that's true. We've made some unfunny stuff.


Graham:  I’ll name three.

Max:  I will prove it was funny.

Graham:  Cyclops.

Max:  Cyclops was a messed up mold of a latex mask that was inherently funny. And it’s got a big dumb blue screw for an eye. How is that a cyclops? Besides, we haven't really shown that to many people, so it doesn’t need to be that funny. But yeah, it’s kinda semi-funny.

Graham:  All of our old astral paintings. Nothing funny about 'em. But I digress.
I think it’s your question, bub.

Graham:  (Right now Max's internet is broken so I’m waiting.)
 Sent at 1:27 AM on Wednesday

Max:  I’m back.

Graham:  Hey.

Max:  Astral paintings. Again, didn’t show them to that many people, and uh—

Graham:  True, I’m pulling at hairs here.

Max:  YEAH BECAUSE IT’S ALL FUNNY. It makes us laugh anyway.

Graham:  My assumption I could name three was off the mark.

Max:  Why make art as a duo rather than two singles?

Graham:  I think we do all three. Wait. That doesn't make any sense. I meant—

Max:  Yes. We do all three.

Graham:  I think outside of our collaborative work is where we have the least amount of joke. I think because so many projects and ideas are just executed off-shoots of late night conversations, they tend to always come from a joke at first. Working with people is hard. There's this amount of embarrassment you have to let go of. You have to be vulnerable with the person your working with to make sure you don't hesitate. I think your boundaries are even clearer working with someone rather then alone because you’re always bumping against that discomfort.

Max:  It’s like dating. Eventually you get to fart in front of the other person, but for the first few months it’s like, oh man don’t fart in front of that person. But once you’re farting in front of that person, it probably means you’re having better sex and making each other happier and stuff. So yeah, we’re farting in front of each other a lot. With most forced collaborations, like for shows, you just get a whole lot of don’t fart around each other, I think.

Graham:  That was gross, but it makes sense. Too much sense.

Max:  Things got too real. Back it out. Talk about the show.

Graham:  If you weren't making art, what would you be doing?

Max:  Tough call because I do a lot of things that aren't art. I’d probably make furniture? I'd eat more ramen and probably watch more movies. I used to play a lot of video games when I was a kid. But maybe I'd do that. Whats your biggest pet peeve that other artists do? Because we don’t do anything wrong and our ivory tower is so high.

Graham:   Hmmm. A lot of times I look at things people are working on and I think "I would never ever make that choice." But that always fascinates me. Like if you’re cringing at something, at least it’s not boring you. What is your biggest flaw?

Max:  I’m gassy often.

Graham:   God damn it.

Max:  Leslie Neilson is so old now it makes me so sad.

Graham:  Leslie Neilson is dead, Max. We've gone over this.

Max:  What. NO NOOO....I had no idea.

Graham:  I literally have a picture of you own my phone next to a picture you drew of leslie neilson with two crossed out eyes, from that party we had when he died.

Max:  So, this year we have made sparklers (homemade sparklers, I might add), virtual reality helmets, wrastled literally hundreds of people, explored the occult. What else? A Cornish Diploma Dispenser, Fake Proposed Land Use Action signs, robotic sheet ghosts. Our interests are varied. What’s next and where do we fit in the art world? What’s all this about?

Graham:  Haha! How drunk are you?

Max:  You’re drunk. Where are we going?

Graham:  I don't know man. I don't think we've ever known, which I think helps. We've only ever done it because we enjoyed doing it.

Max:  We started making art because—

Graham:  I started making art because I’d always made art.

Max:  Me too. So we started living together and jokes happened and then we started working together.

Graham:  Yeah, like that. You could be described as a perfectionist. You've told me that, if you can, you like to have a hand in every single part of a pieces production. In this show though we relied on off site assembly—what has that felt like for you?

Max:  Rad and stressful, equal parts. Rad because it’s like, okay, here's this idea, make it happen, money disappears, art appears, no stress. There are conceptual arguments in favor of the profesionally-produced work.

Graham:  Like the 3d print in the show.

Max:  Also it feels a little bit like selling out. But you’re achieving things that would be impossible without. Like how would we make 3d printed objects, exactly?

Graham:  We just couldn't do that.

Max:  So it’s a conundrum. After doing all of this I’m looking forward to getting a little more down and dirty. Most of our work is down and dirty. We’re there with it, we do a thing, people come, maybe we do a thing to them or with them, and that’s the thing. We're there sharing and creating experiences, but this is much more like a "normal" art show i guess, which is cool but also meh. It’s a lesson in the grand scheme.

Graham:  Paying people to build things has felt like the opposite of what we usually do. But i think it works with the show’s theme of the comedy of impersonal representations of death. Yeah.

Max:  Conceptual arguments in favor of profesional production.

Graham:  Right. Couple more questions?

Max:  Would you rather ride a horse with a man's brain or force a small bird to fly you over a river? Both will be awkward and uncomfortable as you will be forcing yourself on the horse's intellect and abusing the bird's physicality.

Graham:  Horse-man. We're pals. If I were a horse I’d let my buddies ride around on me. And they’d, like, open doors for me and stuff.

Max:  Nah this is post horse-civil-rights and you riding him is like really offensive. Really uncool.

Graham:  The bird could never fly me over the river though. It’s impossible. Or is the bird just barely big enough to carry me, but it’s a terrible strain?
Max:  Semantics.

Graham:  Not at all.

Max:  Just barely, but a terrible strain.

Graham:  Okay, thank you.

Max:  15% chance of him dying of exhaustion on the other side of the river.

Graham:  Is this post-bird civil rights?

Max:  No, birds are still not allowed to vote and aren’t considered citizens.

diagram of nationwide pentagram

(above: diagram of nationwide pentagram)

Graham:  Then the bird. Do you believe in satan?

Max:  I believe there are large energies generated by human beings. They are eternal and they are distinct, but they are giant and vague. I don't think there is a horned half-goat man in the center of the earth, but I believe that enough people have cursed something called a satan or prayed to it or simply said the word enough times that it has a power and that's not to be denied or insulted. I believe churches have the power they do because they are doused in the vibrations people leave in them when they attend church. So...yes and no. Do you believe in satan?

Graham:  I wish. But no. I agree with what you said. I don’t think i could phrase anything as well, so yeah. Ditto to that.

Max:  Last question: we are making a pentagram the size of the united states using phone lines. Do you think there is a chance something terrible will happen and if so, what?

Graham:  I sure hope not. There’s so much of me that really doesn't believe in any of it, that we’re fine and I don’t need to worry. But then there is the other part that is afraid to play with it. It’s like saying bloody mary in a mirror. You are positive it wont happen but hell if it doesn’t scare you to try.
Max:  Word. We cool?

Graham:  We cool.
 Sent at 2:23 AM on Wednesday

Next Thursday, December 13th, Downing and Kraushaar will be hosting another performance at Blindfold Gallery. HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE IN THAT GRAVEYARD? ALL OF THEM will be on view at the gallery till the Mayan apocalypse on December 21, 2012.

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