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July 21, 2014

Alex Prager: Crowd Control

The Philosophical Artist Continues Her Transition to Film With a Brand New Premiere

“I was traveling more than ever over the past several years: airport terminals, subways stations, streets of New York and London,” says Los Angeles native Alex Prager. “I became very aware of the crowds of people and how my emotional and psychological state really determined what I noticed in the crowd and how I absorbed it.” Channeling the personal experience into her latest short film, Face in the Crowd, taken from her M+B- and Lehmann Maupin-exhibited show of the same name, the artist allows viewers to witness the before and after of one of her saccharine-coated, Golden Era-indebted photographs. The melodramatic clip––shown here for the first time––has echoes of the famous last scene in Fellini's 8 ½ and sees 30 Rock actress Elizabeth Banks play an all-American beauty observing a cast of exhibitionist characters before finding herself thrust among them. “Every time I'm in New York I'll have a moment like this,” says Prager. “The second you leave your house you are confronted with a crowd. The choice you have is to either let it swallow you up, or use it as inspiration.” 

Can you tell us a bit more about how the film came about?
Alex Prager: I was dealing with a very visceral reaction to public speaking––stage fright––something I didn't know I had until I was suddenly confronted with an audience. I've always had a strong interest in crowds; I had been wanting to shoot crowds for years, but I wasn't trying to just re-enact crowds that we've seen before, I was trying to create a staged world for these crowds to live in. I wanted to construct crowds that brought the feel of the cinematic, a manufactured world, and meld them with reality. 

How do you cast the picture-perfect scenes?
AP: I use my friends, people I found in cafés or on sidewalks, as well as go through casting companies to find professional extras. My sister was the only person who was in every single crowd shot dressed as a different character. She is the Where's Waldo in Face in the Crowd.

What was the last crowd you encountered?
I went to Art Basel in Switzerland a few weeks ago because the exhibition was being shown with Lehmann Maupin at Art Unlimited. I did a panel discussion for the Salon Sessions. These things always feel a bit overwhelming before I go on stage, and then gradually, as I look out and start to notice individuals, it becomes less and less intense.

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Roe Ethridge: Sacrifice Your Body

A Vivid Series From the Dilettante of Low Culture and High Fashion

Roe Ethridge juxtaposes fashion compositions with rough-and-ready snapshots of ordinary life in Sacrifice Your Body, his latest collection of photographs, published by Mack Books. From the posed to the unplanned, the New York-based artist and photographer is indiscriminate in his focus: portraits for luxury brand Alexis Bittar and still lives rub shoulders with dead fish and discarded cartons. His nomadic style was initially informed by his experience working as a photographic assistant on multiple types of assignment, ranging from catalogue and commercial work to stock photography. "I always loved fashion pictures and the notion of commercial photography, people like Irving Penn," Ethridge says. NOWNESS caught up with the artist who has been exhibited at institutions across the globe, including MoMA in New York, the Barbican in London and Les Recontres D’Arles in France, and was shortlisted for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize in 2011. 

Why Sacrifice Your Body?
Roe Ethridge: When I played High School football in suburban Atlanta I used to hear this group of mothers shouting "Sacrifice Your Body!"

Do you try to break down the divide between commercial commissions and casual snapshots of ‘real’ life?
RE: I don't know if I feel like it's a breaking down process. I used to think of it as a kind of 'atomizing' but now I think its so much about how to recombine, to synthesize.

The Scot Tissue toilet paper in the Chanel shoot undercuts the notion of luxury while still elevating it. Which do you prefer—the discarded or the stylized?
RE: That one was for Self Service. I found that toilet paper roll in the basement of my house in Rockaway Beach. I'm guessing it's from the 40s. Discarded or stylized? Both are necessary for me.

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A Hyper-Camp Drama for the Digital Era from Casey Spooner, Adam Dugas and Michael Stipe

“I have a spa fetish, and this scene is based on a honey treatment I did at Liquidrom, an amazing coed naked spa in Berlin,” gushes Casey Spooner of today’s clip of Dust, the feature-length that he wrote and directed with his creative and romantic partner of 13 years, Adam Dugas. Spooner, frontman for electro-pop duo Fischerspooner, and Dugas, co-founder of performance troupe The Citizens Band, envisioned their debut film as a Skype-age re-telling of Chekov’s Three Sisters, with cohabiting dysfunctional siblings colluding and colliding as they wrestle with their individual dramas. The cast includes Ssion’s Cody Critcheloe, artist and photographer Jaimie Warren, and fashion designer Peggy Noland, plus Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn as the family matriarch. “In the tradition of early John Waters and the films Warhol made at the Factory with Paul Morrissey, Dust defines its own era by reveling in and rolling around in the 21st century’s sadness, audacity and flashpoint laugh-out-loud directness,” says R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, who produced the tragi-comic collaborative effort. Based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they live with their cats, a Douglas Coupland painting and a Dracula lithograph, Spooner and Dugas have previously helmed documentary portraits for ImagineFashion and contributed to The New York Times’ T Magazine. Premiering at Art Basel Miami 2014 this evening, their feature will be digitally streamed on multiple platforms powered through

How did you come to cast superstar Holly Woodlawn?
Casey Spooner: I got a message on Facebook from Holly Woodlawn saying, “I love your work, will you be my friend?” Adam was like, “Oh my God, Holly should play the mother!”

Adam Dugas: She was in her apartment in West Hollywood as we filmed her. She never actually met any of the other actors. We were Skype communicating.

CS: She’s acting to a blank screen with voices coming out. It’s like Hollywood glamour via new digital technology. The new soft focus is digital break-up.

How did Michael Stipe get involved in the film?

CS: We knew the technical side of things but we had no connections to PR, financing, release, legal, distribution. We thought, “Who do we know who knows about the film business?” So we reached out to Michael. He was very discouraging when we first approached him. He was like, “Don’t go into the film business. It’s over, like the music business. Give up. Retreat.” We sent him a rough cut anyway.

AD: A couple of months later he came back to us saying, “Oh by the way, did I tell you that I finally saw your film? I think it’s amazing.” He said he really wanted to get involved. 

You recently made the video Subliminal Alchemy for Modern Weekly China with photographer Asger Carlsen in advance of a new Fischerspooner album. You shot with a real snake, right?
CS: An Albino Burmese python named Banana that was 10 feet long. It was my brilliant idea. Cyril Duval, aka designer and artist Item Idem, asked if I wanted to do a shoot for them. The new album is very erotic and I sent through a bunch of Tumblr images as references, some pornography—basically all about the male form, and a lot of nudity. One of my references had this big snake. Cyril was like, “Let’s do the snake.” I had shot with a snake before for New York magazine and had a great experience. This snake had never been on set before and the handlers were inexperienced. So, I had kind of a grumpy snake experience.

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