An interview with Alex Lukas

Let’s talk about books and zines.
Zines fall into two categories, you have your punk rock theme, your train hopping zine or travel zine … it kind of looks pretty shitty, sometimes they’re incredibly interesting and incredibly content heavy. And then you have your more abstract collections of artists images.  I think Barry Mcgee is a prime example of this, amazing product, but they’re very much conceptual art pieces. Thats not to discount it at all.

A zine can be more about a means of distribution and different formats and less rules, while a bound book has a form that is so intrinsic that you know go through it beginning to end. It has this progression that’s inherent in the form: it has a beginning a middle and an end. And everybody knows how to go through a book. You can either capitalize on that or start to depart from that. Those are the things I would eventually like to try, to experiment with the form.
To change the way people interact with the form, and to elevate the status of the zine and brign it more to the level or prestige in a way and intimacy that is normally associated with a book.
Both the status and the fact that you can curl up in bed and read it. Its more intimate.

I think some zines may feel so throwaway, the average person may not grant them the same level of respect as a book.
It’s a pain in the ass to read a typewritten page that has been Xeroxed for 12 generations. But on the flip side the thing that’s really nice about those is that it can be handed around a multiple amount of times and it is a very effective way of communicating.

Whats the last project you worked on? Was is the Space 1026 10 Year Anniversary zine?
I’m really bad at finishing things. That was kind of for me an exercise in taking somebody else’s content and getting it out super quick. It started out as a project that I thought I was gonna get all the photos in a day, Xerox them that night, and making the zines in the morning. But it took me like 2 weeks, which is still an incredibly fast turnaround for me. Right now I’m doing the proofreading and finishing the layout on the next Melee, and I realized one of the interviews I did is already over a year old. Melee is an incredibly big challenge because I’m by myself narrating all the content, doing all the design, and then all the production. Out top of putting it together, I gotta figure out how to pay for it. I gotta save up the money to get the covers done, I gotta fold them, I gotta cut them. And then you have the distribution which is the most frustrating thing.

Its a nightmare.
In theory, if the magazine made money it’d be easier.

But you have to do all the work on your own at this point, when you are dealing with small numbers like this.
I have huge problems going into stores and handing out my stuff. That’s the social anxiety part number 1. And then a couple weeks later, looking around the store, you find it behind something and then you go and put them in front of the rest.  I was in a store the other day, and it still had some stuff of mine from like 2 1/2 years ago. You can’t go to the register and be like “uh, you know that 12 dollars you owe me?” They say, “Wait till it gets to 15 and then we’ll settle up.” Just that act of going into places is incredibly hard for me.

That’s why I’d kind of love to just start giving these things away. It almost makes more sense. I’m kind of torn right now because I did the Spothunters book and had that offset printed and professionally done and so I have 2000 of them. Its easier to give away. So when you have only a 100…that you make you feel a little more pressure.  Especially since you save 10 for yourself to put aside and you give away 20, which leaves you with 70. It’s hard, you know. I don’t want it to sound like I’m whining about it, but it’s certainly an uphill battle.

So what are you publishing plans for the future? I’m always interested to see people that are smaller scale doing their thing and what their ethics are.
What I would like to do is really just push the content. One of my goals initially, when starting to make the zine, just making mini comics, graffiti books, and for lack of a better term, street art documents, I really enjoy the idea of cross-polinating, where it isn’t as simple as I publish comics or I publish artists zines, you know what I mean. They’re all stuff that I’m interested in, and to be able to share that with people and just to be able to say hey, if you enjoy this, then maybe you’ll also get into this. So I kind of hope to continue to push that. I have a project that I’ve been working on probably the past 2 1/2 – 3 years.  It’s about the history of the railroad tunnel in Providence.  When it gets done it’s going to be a really ambitious project. What I’m trying to do is talk to some rail fans, talk to graffiti writers, some rich kids who had a party down there. So there are basically all these different people who have interacted with this space for the past 100 years, and to bring all of that together and show how it all co-existed, and how different people are interested in this place, hopefully that will be interesting.

Other than that, I have the 2nd issue of the Melee coming out pretty soon, hopefully.  The 3rd issue I think I’m going to devote to New Jersey.

Who’s in the 2nd issue?
The 2nd issue is an interview with Will Buzzell about… it’s about his gambling problem.  So we went to this place called Lincoln Park, it’s a casino in Rhode Island, and just talked to Will a little bit about gambling, before, after and during. And then we visited him later, once he quit, to kind of see how that was going. There’s an interview with my buddy Jimmy, who followed Phish around while they’re on tour for a couple of years. Kind of my idea is I want to interview people about things that aren’t their main focus.

Thats an interesting perspective.You can get  a whole new idea of a person when you start to bring other parts of their lifestyle into play, when you are talking more about then what this person is popular for.
And that’s what I’ve been talking to Greg LaMarche about. The subway tunnels. He’s always known as the artist but he has has this separate, well not separate, more parallel, separate field of knowledge. My friend Margo who I interviewed for Melee, she doesn’t spend very much time thinking about the neighborhood, but she was in the neighborhood as it became gentrified and that’s something that hasnt been talked about in New York, how it’s kind of happening all the time. It’s one of those things that people talk about casually, but hasn’t been a main focus. I hope other people find it interesting.

What are you doing on the more traditional art side of things? Is there any connection between your painting and illustration and your publishing work?
They kind of are, but not totally. To kind of bring everything together…bringing the illustrations, and for lack of a better word, fine art, together, especially when I was doing things outdoors…a part of me thinks I’m really shooting myself in the foot by compartmentalizing what I think so much, but they all meet their specific purposes and they fulfill separate needs that I have.

Sometimes its nice to have a hobby, a pure hobby. Something that can satisfy you purely aesthetically. Like my photography I don’t plan on making money off of it and I don’t have to make any excuses for it.

And that’s to me what Cantab kind of is. I don’t want to worry about going to stores, I just want to be able to do it. And in that way it allowed me to express ideas and concepts that I’m not interested in pouring in all my time, I can just get them out…it’s a whole different ball game. And you know they all come from the same mind and I guess all of my…are about some ambiguous disaster…

Tell me more about the prevalent disaster theme.
In the next issue of Melee there’s two photo essays and I guess that’s the closest thing to having an introduction and everything and one of them is about St. Louis and how dilapidated half the town is. Since 1950, St. Louis has experienced a population boom of a half a million people. Its a real interesting phenomenon that is going on there right now that people are moving into these downtown loft buildings, these downtown condos that are converted from former industry, so you still have a huge amount of houses in pre-existing neighborhoods. But nobody wants to live there. While I don’t literally want to do a series of paintings about St. Louis, the ideas are kind of parallel, and they cross pollinate. And then the other photo essay is about the Denver International Airport that is supposedly going to be one of the detention centers for the New World Order. When then start bussing all Americans citizens into these concentration camps, one of which is supposedly under the Denver International Airport.

Who’s theory is this?
It started with this; I was going to Denver, and about a week before I left, I was at a party and this cute girl mentioned that Denver International Airport, that there are a bunch of conspiracy theories about it on Youtube. And I was kind of really interested cause she was really cute. So I went home and looked it up, and low and behold there were a bunch of guys on Youtube yelling about it, a whole Wikipedia thing on it, apparently there’s an episode of Coast to Coast A.M. that talks all about it, you know, aliens and all..

Did you go there?
Yeah, I had to go anyhow. I spent an extra two hours walking around to explore.  It became interesting apart from this whole experience because when you go to a place and it’s complety innocent, and even if you’ve taken all this conspiracy information with a grain of salt, I still got freaked out. You had to go in this underground subway, which is essentially taking you from terminal A to B but in the videos they were talking about how one of those people moving things was going to drop you off in some underground hold. One of the things the guy kept talking about is that once you go underground at the Denver International Airport, you’ll never see the light of day again. So of course I’m on the subway, and I was like this is the end. That kind of experience is something I think other people might find interesting.

Reminds me of a scene from Children of Men.
And that’s the thing, the post apocalyptic imagery, I hate that term, but that imagery within our culture from everything, from Children of Men to Mad Max. There’s a Billy Joel song called Miami 27, that’s just about the destruction of New York City, and then beyond that September 11th happened, and it was so close to a movie, it’s really hard to distinguish that this is really happening. Those are ideas that kind of inform my paintings. And my publshing too.

Its increasingly difficult to distinguish between the fictional aspects of things and reality. You really realize the power of images and media. But you also can see how little of a stronghold the images actually have on their power.
I was in Italy after September 11, it must have been November. It was right about when American troops were first sent to Afghanistan. And there were posters all around for an anti-terrorism rally in Rome and I thought it was an interesting phrasing, not pro-peace, not solidarity with America, which is what a lot of the posters you saw said.  Me and some other friends  walk up to check out what’s going on.  And we get into the Piazza del Povolo and there is a million people and then you see these jumbotron tv’s. When we get there, everyone is raising American flags and Italian flags, and we’re the only Americans. This John Williams cinematic music comes over the loud speakers and we turn around an on the jumbotron are shots of the planes hitting the towers, just getting everybody riled up, hands up in the air, and it turns out it was the day Italy was sending troops to Afghanistan and basically this was getting people to rally behind the war. Strangely somehow I felt like what the hell are you guys doing, this is my country. You guys are using our imagery to propagate this war.  And even now I think it’s very interesting that so many images of NY, even with what Guiliani is doing in the presidential campaign, so much of  September 11 propaganda and kind of this image of NY as the symbol of America, that we need to defend, so it’ll never happen again. It’s being pitched to the rest of the country when everybody in NY is a democrat and thinks that the patriot act is awful and so in that sense I don’t know how you take ownership of that event. But once it starts to be something that people claim ownership of it or manipulate it, it really raises a lot of issues of where your from and legitimately being in a place.

Being in the business we are in, as image makers, it raises a lot of issues for us, morally and ethically. It becomes hard to come to terms with being responsible. And with the internet, the stakes are higher and things are moving much faster. G-mail and google also have this indexing capability which is scary.
When I was trying to figure out where I was going to live in Philly, I was sending out a bunch of emails and all of a sudden, the ad that comes up on my g-mail is for the Ikea in Philly. The computer knew what I was looking at. and that’s why print media is great.

Its a consumer society.
We’re at a point where we are in a country with so much consumerism … iPhones and iPods,etc. I find it fun to ride the subway in NY and try to calculate how many thousands dollars of electronics are in the car with people, by the time people have their dvd players, GPS,  iPods, radio, cell phones, cameras. But we’re at war, and there seems to be no sacrifice.

No Victory Gardens or war bonds.
But we can hang up yellow ribbons and keep living life as usual. Commerce seems to take over. Caleb and I get into the argument a lot about the Os Gemeos book, which is an amazing book that they could give away for free. But Nike paid for it. And you’re almost like this is an art that’s made, in a sense, off the back of poverty because they paint in impoverished places.  I think this is something we need to start questioning in young communities, how much corporate money we want to be taking and how much it’s worth it.


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