Exploring Beauty and Hell With Gay Artists SUPERM
Above: SUPERM by Mitchell McCormack
Slava Mogutin and Brian Kenny (the two men behind SUPERM) are one of of the most inspirational and influential power couples in the art world. Their latest project, "BEAUTY and HELL," a two part exhibition at Envoy Enterprises New York, finds inspiration in the poems of Arthur Rimbaud. Part One, "BEAUTY" opened last Thursday and Part Two, "HELL" opens today.
The Advocate: How did you guys meet?
Slava: Brian picked me up outside of Opaline, a now defunct club on Avenue C in the East Village. It was the night when I broke up with my ex, so I was really upset and needed a drink or two.
Brian: I was outside on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette and saw this sexy Eastern European looking guy standing not too far away. I thought he was straight as the crowd outside was mixed, but then I noticed he went back inside the bar, so I followed him in, introduced myself and asked if he wanted to dance. He said ‘sure’ and we hit the dance floor. He was a terrible dancer, which just turned me on even more, and soon after we left together and had really hot sex all night long. I still had no idea Slava was a great artist. The next day he asked me something really strange. He said, “I’m gonna do a shoot with my skinhead friend, who’s gonna be lying on the sidewalk wearing diapers and boots and he’ll be covered in broken eggs, but I need someone to throw the eggs at him. Will you do this?” At the time, it was the most bizarre thing someone had ever asked me to do, so of course, I immediately said “Yes!” Little did I know that his “friend” was, in fact, his ex-boyfriend.
Slava: I guess, it’s fair to say that we’ve been making art together literarally from the day we met! Besides starring in the film, Brian helped me with the editing and the soundtrack and we included it in our first shows together in Moscow and Berlin a few months later.
Above: That's How We Roll
Your newest exhibit "Beauty and Hell" was inspired by Rimbaud. When did you discover Rimbaud and why is it relevant now?
Slava: Back in my early teenage years as a homeless poet in Moscow, I was often called “the Russian Rimbaud.” I couldn’t wish for a better comparison. Rimbaud reinvented the French literary language, expanded the limits of poetic expression and the very notion of what’s acceptable in the mainstream culture. He was essentially the first punk, a century before punk was invented. And it’s no coincidence that all my heroes, from Jean Genet to Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Patti Smith, name Rimbaud as their Godfather. It seems like his influence only multiplies with time, his apocalyptic visions grow stronger and more vivid, perfectly describing our world of perpetual war, capitalist greed, overindulgence, and universal anxieties about past, present and future. That’s why we chose to pay a humble tribute to this visionary with our new film and show.
Brian: Slava and I wanted to make a short film based on Rimbaud’s poetry and we couldn’t think of a better actor than French porn star and fashion icon Francois Sagat. We met Francois a couple of years ago during the New York premier of Bruce LaBruce’s latest movie LA Zombie. We became friends and when he came back to New York for his retrospective and master class at the Museum of Arts and Design, we filmed Beauty and Hell at our studio on 14th Street, with Francois reading Rimbaud’s poems "Being Beautious" and "Night in Hell." A hologram of a porn star, as Bruce LaBruce calls him, Francois was really professional and fun and easy to work with. He’s truly a great performer, especially outside of the porn settings, which most of his fans are used to. We purposely focused on his expressive face and beautiful voice, instead of his muscles or macho sex appeal.
You have been working together for eight years now. How did the Skingraphs series come about?
Brian: It happened totally spontaneously and organically, like everything we do. We wanted to create a series that could be both a gallery exhibition and potentially a book. We’ve done plenty of shows and projects together, but this is perhaps our most conceptual, ambitious and extensive collaboration to date, with over 30 collages in total, with similar style and composition, all hand-made and mounted on identical canvas panels, 11 x 14 inches each — very intimate size.
Slava: To make a long story short, we wanted to get rid off a massive pile of vintage gay porn magazines that was sitting at our studio for years, so we thought it could be a good tribute to the good ol’ print porn, which is about to disappear with the advent of the digital age and Internet takeover. Years ago I used to shoot for some of these magazine, like Honcho, Inches, and Playguy, and the editors always complained that I never had enough dick shots, so eventually I got sick and tired of it and decided to make a transition into the world of fine art. So I looked at this old magazine pile and thought, why not turn this old porn into new art? First of all, we removed all the faces and genitals, cut them all up and mixed together, then re-assembled piece by piece, limb by limb, creating these alien looking amorphic metabods that resemble either deep sea creatures or ancient sculptures with missing limbs and genitals — so mysterious and pretty to look at, and perfectly G-rated. Collaging them together was an extremely tedious and time-consuming process, but very satisfying nevertheless, like meditation or solving a puzzle. We would never be able to achieve anything like this digitally in Photoshop.
How do your projects figure in your relationship? Is it fluid? Or do you demarcate work and personal time?
Brian: It’s totally fluid and always personal. Most of the inspiration for our collaborations come out of our personal experiences: our daily routines and mutual interests, travels and friendships, inside jokes and fights and are all referenced in SUPERM work. For instance, for my last show entitled "The Hole Truth", Slava and I photographed each other in spooning positions in our favorite fetish gear and mounted the portraits on motors that slowly rotated towards each other. We called the piece That’s How We Roll. In "Beauty and Hell", all the titles of our Skingraphscollages reference certain situations we went through and phrases we used during the creation of works: Everyday Rituals, Blackout Entanglement (referencing the power outages during hurricane Sandy), The first vote is the deepest (about Slava voting for the first time as a US citizen), and This almost didn’t happen (our show almost got cancelled because of said hurricane), etc… You can almost look at our work as the visual diary of our relationship!
Slava: SUPERM is our baby, our love child and our creation that already has a life of its own. The work we’ve created together will outlive both of us and will remind people of our life and love. For us art equals love and vice versa. That’s what keeps us together and that’s what makes us stronger.