On this week’s episode of 20kUnderDC we’re joined by Robin Bell. An editor, video journalist, and multimedia artist, Robin has displayed his work everywhere from the Phillips Collection to warehouse parties to the facades of burnt-out buildings. His latest projects include ”Projection for Televisions” at Artisphere and the “Decontamination Lounge,” an immersive environment currently set up at Artomatic in Crystal City. In the studio we discuss his work with Positive Force, the fate of the Monseñor Romero Apartments in Mount Pleasant, and why borrowing things from the office is the best way to subsidize an artistic career. Listen to the whole show or read some loosely transcribed excerpts below.
20k: What would you like to start with?
RB: Since we’re here I think I’m going to talk specifically about the outdoor projections at first. We’ve been doing these projections on the [Monseñor Romero Apartments]. There was a fire there in 2008 and the tenants bought the property form a defunct landlord. Were trying to get a little bit of energy about the project and letting the neighbors know that while there’s work going on more support from the neighborhood is needed.
I had the fortune and misfortune to witness the fire when it happened in 2008. I filmed it and put together a few film projects about it and given my footage to people. Every time I walk by the piece of property I go, “I want to project on it.” So this year we started to project—we got some big projectors and we project on the building. We have a lot of fun with it.
My joke with my friends and with the people who show up is that I’m going to do it until there’s neighbors who live in in there that will complain. For the moments its a great canvas. There was actually a little bit of work going on last week where they were knocking down some of the bricks that weren’t working. That was exciting but then nothing has happened since.
20k: It’s been a while. People are still waiting to move back in eventually is the idea, right?
RB: They are. They are actually trying to maintain it as low income housing. The tenants that have lived there and were kicked out are planing on moving back, so it’s really essential that they get in as soon as possible.
20k: What about your work at Artomatic?
RB: I love Artomatic. I say that with pride. I think Artomatic is a great event for DC. It brings together a lot of people. You know, there really are a lot of creative people in Washington, DC and we don’t always get a chance to come together. Not everything is what you want to see and there is a lot of great finds there as well. You have this temporary community that all comes together for a month once every year or two.
We decided to come together and makes this great lounge which we call the “Decontamination Lounge.” It’s all about genetically modified foods.
20k: It features stuff you’ve done on Monsanto.
RB: Exactly. You know one of the projects I’m interested in right now is genetically modified foods and how they effect us, how we’re basically guinea pigs to these multinational companies—specifically Monsanto—which have basically bought our congressional leaders. There is a lot of pressure right now from people all around the world to hold them accountable. Its been a real treat to be able to document all that.
Artomatic is this place where you can kind of put together what you want in a space. There’s no curator; you are the curator and you have your space. I walked in there ans was like, “We’re going to be next to a cafe. Well, shoot, everyone is going to be eating genetically modified foods, might as well set up a little lounge.” A friend gave us a couch, we painted the room yellow, every now and then you can walk in the room and you’ll see a bunch of people dressed up in hazmat suits. There’s footage and we’ve got this video instillation and some of the photographs I’ve taken from the campaign [against Monsanto].
And just a plug for the campaign: On September, 17 2012 will be the Occupy Monsanto actions all over the world. Activists all over the world will do different activations and protests and civil disobedience to raise awareness and challenge Monsanto’s actions. It’s important. There’s a big movement now about the right to know what’s in your food. I’m very lucking being an artist in Washington, DC: There’s so much to film and there’s so much to look at and so much to document. At the moment it’s one of the things I’m excited about.
[After playing the song “Electrolux” by Hoover]
RB: This is a track that I’ve recently found and I absolutely love. We we’re talking earlier about projects and I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to work on a film about Positive Force, which is a local DC punk-rock activist group that’s been around since 1985 and has worked with hundreds of amazing musicians—Hoover would be one of them.
20k: The documentary is the history of Positive Force and the impact it’s had on the culture of DC and the music?
RB: In a nutshell: yes. It’s a history, there’s lessons that are learned. It’s a snapshot of certain time periods in the history of Washington, DC. It’s a little bit of a lesson about activism in music both before and after, and what’s going on currently. The main thing about the film is I really wanted to have the people from the organization talk. It’s never cut and dry when you make a film—especially a doc. It’s impossible to make a film that accurately represents a group that’s been around for 27 years in 85 minutes. There s a lot of stories that we’ve filmed and documented that are amazing lessons learned about the spirit of community and peoples coming together. Also just some amazing shows. When I talk to certain people, they come up to me and are like, “I heard you’re making a film.” They tell me the story of when they went to a Positive Force show and how they volunteered and how it changed the way they look at shows and concerts and the responsibilities of musicians and organizations—the do-it-yourself attitude.
Dubpixels — “Sea in the Sky”
[I was thinking, “What am I going to play tonight?” And I thought it would be only appropriate to play this song “Seas in the Sky” by Dubpixel, which is a friend of mine, Douglas Kallmeyer. He and I were in a band together called 302 Acid, we do audio-visual shows. After the fire I made a video with the footage with this song. I am embarrassed because I don’t know which version of the song that I have. I have three of them on my computer. So I’m hoping this song is relevantly the finished version.]
Amon Tobin — Surge (16Bit remix)
[If I had a short list of musicians I would work with who I haven’t worked with, Amon Tobin would definitely be on top of the list.]
Bob James — “Take Me to the Mardi Gras”
[I feel like this is the perfect song to play in the rain.]
Hoover — “Electrolux”
Thievery Corporation — “Radio Retaliation”
[This is a band I work with that plays music—they do a lot of great stuff… They’ve given me a lot of love over the years and let me play my videos behind them when they perform and I got to shoot a few of their music videos.]
Thievery Corporation — “Retaliation Suite”
Thievery Corporation feat. Chuck Brown — “The Numbers Game”
[On Chuck Brown: ”I think I can speak for nearly everyone in DC: We feel loss for his family and friends but feel very lucky to be able to witness his amazing talent and everything he’s given to this city.”]
DJ Rekho — “Basement Bhangra Anthem”
Primal Scream — “Kill All Hippies”
KRS-One and Goldie — “Digital (VIP)”
Rusko — “Jahova”
[I love to put videos to this song. When it’s really loud and everyone’s having a good time, this one is definitely one of my favorites.]
Player — “Angel of Theft” (Adom Tobin remix)
Dubpixels — “Against What”
Source: SoundCloud / 20kUnderDC