Andrew Jeffrey Wright
Andrew Jeffrey Wright is a Philadelphia-based photographer, performance artist, print and zine maker. He was one of the founding members of Space 1026, which is a collective-run exhibition and studio space. He gave us a tour and we talked about his love for E.T., his new projects, and how he used to play basketball with Diplo. We recently curated him in our exhibition "No Vacancy" at Squat Gallery in Brooklyn.
What are you working on now?
That is hard to answer because I work on multiple things at one time. I am working on performance. I do a show called the "The Shit & Piss Show." It is part commentary on society and part absurdist humor. I dress up as a giant pile of sh*t and my friend is a puddle of pee. I am working on an ongoing zine called "DFW Comics" with Isaac, Barry, Jacob, Jessica, and Emelia...I don't ever work on just one thing, and I don’t finish projects until two days before they are due.
Are you still working on the money photos series?
I don't do the money photos anymore. Part of that project was I didn't have a bank account. (I didn’t have a bank account until 2015.) Every photo is a depiction of all the money I had in the world at that moment. I didn't know if I would ever show them to the masses or if people would know the story behind them. The photos have been shown in zines and exhibitions before but never a full on art show (until recently at The Hole). Paul Bright and Kathy Grayson knew about the series - they knew the concept behind it and thought it would be interesting to show. Paul Bright is making a book out of it. The series wasn't just about taking funny photos of money - it was a diary of my finances. Money is a dictation of how you can live your life. It is personal. I was afraid to expose it.
I’m interested in absorbing the ridiculousness of a scene. It a personal series, but it’s also funny (hopefully every photo is funny). One day my friend was like, "Hey, we just took my dog’s leg off!" (Because it had cancer in its leg.) "Would you come over and take a money photo with my dog?" People knew about my photos from my zines, and they resonated. I don't know exactly how or why it grew beyond being just my personal project, but somehow it connected itself with other people.
Now that series is done. I took one picture of money since because I did a job and the person that hired me was really into my money photos. So when they paid me, I cashed the check and took all the money they gave me and took a photo. It wasn’t a part of that series though because it wasn’t all the money that I had in the world. I did that series for 15 years…
So you didn’t have a bank account because of student loans, right?
Yeah. Student loans. I had my bank account ceased twice and thought, “Jeez, cease my bank account once shame on you, twice shame on me, and there is not going to be a third time.”
Do your projects often have that type of longevity? You mentioned the money photo project happened over the course of 15 years.
I have been part of 1026 for 19 years. I helped start it. When I was 17 (before digital cameras existed), I started documenting my physical appearance three times a year. I did that until 2008, but after digital photography, everyone started doing it. Now, their photos don't date back to 1987, but...I don't know if that project will ever see the light of day. I was going to make an animation, but plenty of people have created self-portrait animations…I did that series for 20 years. They are all in an envelope in my apartment.
Do you do a lot of animation?
I went to school for animation. I do small bits of animation here and there. I don't do "a lot” because I don't do a lot of anything. I do a bunch of a lot of stuff, so I am working on an animation right now...The one on my site is "The Manipulators." Clare Rojas and I manipulated fashion magazines. There are two of those. I never officially put both of them on the internet - just that one. They were shot on 16mm film. One was from 1999. One is from 2002. The one you saw was from 1999. It was made with white out and sharpie. The concept was advertising and fashion magazines manipulate us, so we wanted to manipulate the images that manipulate us. I love fashion, but when anything gets too extreme or controlling it becomes dangerous. We took images we felt created ridiculous standards and heightened them to make them funny. Some people thought we were just goofing around, but we weren’t. It’s commentary on the controlling power of images.
What are your performances?
They are comedy based. They straddle performance art and comedy. I do stuff as The New Dreamz with my friend Rose. I also am a part of a larger group called Comedy Dreamz. The New Dreamz goes beyond regular comedy. So it's not Monty Python. But it's not Dynasty Handbag. It's not Jamie Warren. There are similarities, but it’s still different. It's not any one thing. It is seven different things all at once. We do some bits that are narrative - short bits, sketches. But then we do stuff that goes into other directions.
How did you get into comedy?
A friend of mine had a birthday party. She said that everyone had to do a talent, and I thought this would be the moment when I try stand up comedy.
Was it intimidating?
Well, I wore a mask. I was honestly too shy. People were always saying I was funny and should do stand up, but it's different on stage. Most of the time that I am funny, I don't know I am being funny. I am just living my life, and when people point out I am being funny, I stop right away. I am living in the moment, and that is all I am doing. But it was my time to do it on stage, and I thought I can write five minutes of comedy...I wasn’t sure if I could handle people staring at me, so I wore a mask. I really needed it.
At first, I only did stand up four times a year, for about three years, and it was mostly at noise shows and art galleries. As ridiculous as my humor is, there is a lot of truth in my comedy. I did a piece after my girlfriend broke up with me. I segued into talking about our break up for 20 seconds, and everyone thought it was just a bit, but it was real. Most of my work is based in reality. I have one exception and that is I have never done drugs, and a lot of my pieces relate to drug humor. I have been called a "poser" before because of that. However there is reality in that too because I am interested in exploring things I don’t understand.
When did you get into making zines?
In high school, my friends and I started "The Underground Skate Mag" (which is a very generic name). In hind site, I love the name. At that moment, I would have liked to call it something else. There were five-six skater kids working on the zine. The photocopy hook ups back then were great...Basically the kid that named it was the toughest kid in the group, so nobody argued.
Can you talk about the formation of 1026? It evolved from a skateboarding collective?
A bunch of us grew up skateboarding, a hand full of kids was going to RISD and one kid was going to school in Boston. We were influenced by Shepard Fairey. He had his art studio in Providence at that time and had a skate ramp in his studio. We were influenced by our friends at Fort Thunder: Mat Brinkman, Brian Chippendale, the Forcefield dudes, and a bunch of people that lived there. We were influenced by Alleged Gallery, a skater style gallery in New York City. We wanted to start a spot inspired by those three places. We thought about starting it in Providence, but we were all over being there. We thought about NYC but came to the conclusion that it did not need us. We decided to go back to Philly - a lot of us grew up around the Philadelphia suburbs. We all went back to Philly and found this spot.
We never went non-profit. Studios rent pays for the gallery space. Our art shows are never about making money. The gallery gives artists the opportunity to do a show without the pressure of selling work.
Is the space collectively run?
At first it was very unstructured because we only had one floor and there were only six of us. Now we have two floors, and there are 26 members. We have a bunch of different committees -a tech committee, HR committee, intern committee, gallery committee... Everyone is supposed to join one, but even that is not mandatory. You can join the space and just paint in your corner.
Are there aesthetic drivers of the collective?
No. For a while, it seemed like there was. It started out as this skateboarding graffiti art gallery. (This was before the term “Street Art” existed. We were wheat pasting in the streets.) When we got the upstairs, kids who were straight out of grad school were doing more “grad school art.” We were skaters that just happened to make art rather than “skateboard artists." We had our fair share of stuff that was like that too, but it wasn't every show. We didn't want to be associated with just one thing. Fort Thunder was similar. It's a collective of people who got together and started making art. At 1026, sometimes work blended well, but that was never a requirement. We don't check portfolios. The main thing we look for in new members is that you will get along with other people, and that you will pay your rent. The hope is that people are drawn from the outside because they relate to our aesthetic.
Has 1026 shown as a collective?
We've had a lot of collective shows, and they would work because we would set down rules - like everyone screen print different posters but use this color scheme. If you are covering a wall, as long as you get the colors right, it almost always looks good. One of the coolest things we did was at the ICA in Philly. We built towers. Everyone took pieces of cardboard and turned them into shingles. Everyone had to screen print on the cardboard. You could walk into the towers. There were different rooms with different pieces in them.
What is relationship with aliens and "E.T."?
"E.T." came out when I was a little kid, so it was imprinted on me. I had a deep connection to "E.T." I tried to build communicators - it didn't work. I saw the movie four times in the theater when I was little. I cried each time. Sometimes you can’t intellectualize things. I don't know where that connection came from. Maybe from the idea of the other - that there are things beyond. It opens us to the possibilities of connecting to other life forces beyond ourselves.