"It's simply a waste of time to not be yourself."
SAM POTRYKUS: I felt compelled to interview you, fellow New England artist & zinester and editor of Mothers News (a big inspiration for us at BCN), but for readers who are unfamiliar with your antics, could you briefly describe your work and practice?
JACOB BERENDES: In a very general sense, my work and practice is a series of what are to me funny ideas that I try to follow through beyond the funny stage. Over the past 15 years or so some of my major projects have been a newspaper (Mothers News), a storefront/gallery (HBML, in Worcester MA), and an arts non-profit (CTRI Innovations). These big projects tend to be about taking an institutional form, larger than the individual, and inhabiting the form in a personal and playful way.
The thing I'm repping now (early Fall 2022) is a stuffed animals project I did called Animal Year, which I'm showing at Heavy Manners in LA in early October. In 2004-2005 I made a unique stuffed animal every day for a year, even when I really didn't want to. As can be expected, some are regular good and some are interesting, and some are bad but still loveable. And a very small number are failures, quite frankly.
SP: Where can folks find Mothers News and can we please have some more back issues for our zine library?
JB: Welllllll if you want hard copies you might've missed the boat! I'm working on a book collection but that's a long ways away. "What if I was a book" is a question that's still bouncing around the old domepiece. In the meantime you can read back issues online at my website, which is a castle, at Fujichia.com. They're in the library-- go in the green door and take the stairs to the third floor, the library is the first door, you can't miss it. The light's on the right hand side.
SP: We know that artist-run publications and projects defy the logic of profit/markets so why do we do it? Did you get into trash art and plush animals because it's more lucrative?
JB: Come on bro, we do it because we deny the primacy of profits and markets as the key factors in our lives! I think that anyone who wants a lucrative arts practice should choose right now between lucrative and arts practice. Do you want to make money on a short time frame, or do you want to sing the song of your heart to a loving god? You can't do both at the same time, and you can make more money doing pretty much anything other than following your arts practice. I find that it's best not to think of art as a career, but as something you enjoy. Like traveling, or drugs, or video games. No one requires their video game experience or psychedelic trip to be lucrative. It's OK, and in fact it's completely regular, and even desirable, if your arts practice doesn't make money. Most of what I produce is cheap or free.
SP: What is it about New England?
JB: It's spooky, which is to say that it respects the ethereal. Also there's four distinct seasons, which gives one the feeling of being (at least) four different people in the course of a year. Lastly everything's close by. When you tour out west there's a lot of long drives between spots, but you could do a nice little New England tour and drive like 2 hours a day, max. So that's a great feature-- you can tap into a million different cool little scenes pretty easily.
SP: Talk a bit about the LA connection. How did this opportunity come together for you? I firmly believe we need more bicoastal collaboration for independent artists but is this that? How can folks plug in to rad independent happenings outside of Boston?
I think focusing on "bicoastal" is a bad move but in terms of connecting artists with other artists in other places, from an independent/underground perspective, the model is pretty clear I think. It's easiest to talk about this using music as an example, so I'll outline it that way. You're a band, you go to shows and meet people, and from there start playing shows, just whatever shows you can. If there's a touring band on the bill then give them your cut of the door money-- come to terms with the fact that you won't be able to actually make money OR break even for a long time, possibly never. In time you start booking shows for the touring bands. You are nice and on time and you make a cool flyer and put them up everywhere and people show up and the bands remember you as someone who is reliable and honest and hopefully fun and maybe a little nuts. Then when you want to go on tour you call up the bands you got along with most and say can you get me a gig, and ideally they're excited to help you. And then that's it, then you're touring and meeting people and one thing turns into another.
From a non-music perspective the points on this path are a little obscure, but the idea is still basically the same-- you start off doing your thing, you become a resource if possible, you build relationships, you make calls. I guess this sounds a lot like "social climbing" so I should add: being a phony gives you a very small short term advantage and a huuuuuuuuge long term disadvantage. It's simply a waste of time to not be yourself. In my experience that's how you connect with other artists, as an artist. That's how my opportunity came together. Sorry to get deep on this practical question but that's as practical as I can be!
Check out Jacob's amazing website https://www.fujichia.com/ and follow the dude on IG at @lilchamp__