ART: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Muffinhead
Ever walk into a place and feel like you’re on the verge of experiencing something out of this world? That’s what happens at the Memorial Day weekend extravaganza known as BANZAI!!!!!!!!!! presented by Muffinhead and Eric Schmalenberger. Who can resist hanging out with a vibrant array of Club Kids and the crème de la crème of Gotham’s underground art scene at the spacious Red Lotus Room (tucked away deep in Crown Heights, Brooklyn). I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Muffinhead, who reveals the secret behind the party and more in an exclusive Q&A with Tania Fuentez Media.
TFM: What exactly is Banzai and what can the brave at heart expect upon arrival and throughout the night?
Muffinhead: BANZAI!!!!!!!!!! (it has to include 10 exclamation points btw, we’re very particular about this detail) is basically a large-scale maximalist art and performance event produced by Eric Schmalenberger and myself. We’ve just recently produced our fifth on Memorial Day weekend at Red Lotus Room, which is our mother-venue and has supported us from the inception, about three years ago.
It’s an amalgam, really. It’s a lot like The Cannibal Flower in L.A. which I loved and was happy to be part of for some time, along with Lollapalooza in the early 90s. The concept behind it is basically to involve as many visual artists and performers as possible who already have work that can fit into the hyper-surrealist, whimsical landscape aesthetic-and we just encourage them to go completely crazy in the space provided. The result is fairly mad, which we’re very proud of.
TFM: You’re originally from L.A., but you’ve secured a special place among Club Kids and the pantheon of New York underground culture. How did that happen? What have you learned along the way?
Muffinhead: I met my ex in L.A. and we lived there for a few months before she decided she hated it and wanted to go back to New York-which I thought sounded like a grand adventure having absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. In L.A. I was sort of emerging as a fixture in some underground art parties and nightlife, etc. …
In L.A., there really wasn’t too much of a “Club Kid” culture at the time, we didn’t know who Leigh Bowery was … I had simply been toying with some looks and I was terrified every time I’d leave the house because no one was doing it. I was completely on my own wearing balloon dresses and stuffed animals and Boba Fetish gear to art parties. So, when I came to New York it became apparent very quickly that I would need to step it up in a hurry. As it turned out, the nightlife performers here are very good at what they do and most of them are essentially makeup artists … which I was not. But I had a bit of an imagination and the good fortune of being recognized by some very key people: Susanne Bartsch, Kenny Kenny, Jeffrey Deitch, Shane Savant to name a few …
As far as securing a special place here or anywhere it’s always about persistence and that’s also what I’ve learned along the way: that anything is possible given a certain push. New York thrives on geniuses and fools alike.
TFM: How would you describe your art, personal style and philosophy on life? Who has been the most influential?
Muffinhead: Eeek, I’m not sure really! I get these ideas and visions and I realize that it’s my duty to bring them to light. Without question. I’m always influenced heavily by those who I love _ my mother who has immaculate taste and my father who is a bit of a fearless artist in his own right.
TFM: When and where did the idea for Muffinheadland manifest itself and how has this evolved since inception?
Muffinhead: Well, the truth is odd really. I had always had a fixation with artists who pushed the boundaries: from Jim Morrison to Chris Burden … and I was a kid from Orange County, Calif., which gave me a nice beige background to revolt against. I had always wanted to experiment with psychedelic drugs and I accidentally jumped head first into a very severe one known as Dextromethorphan-and it blew my mind immediately. I started seeing patterns, visions … it was a strange little world born in my mind and one that I have not forgotten since. The basic idea was formed immediately. I’ve only gotten better at expressing it along the way.
TFM: How important is music in creating your concept art shows, exhibits and fantastical parties? Which made you proudest from start to finish?
Muffinhead: Music sets the tone entirely. I’ve thrown parties before where the DJ’s did not understand what I was trying to do and I’ve watched it fall apart right in front of me…so yeah, music is definitely the front line of attack.
BANZAI!!!!!!!!!! is the event that fully captured what I was trying to do successfully. It is its own monster in a way because it’s almost completely in the hands of the artists. We try to steer the ship a bit through a careful curation process but essentially it belongs to the artists, the performers and the audience and they have never, ever failed me.
TFM: The dance world recently lost irreplaceable icons such as Whitney Houston, Donna Summer and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees. Please share any poignant memories linked to their music or other artists who made a difference in your life?
Muffinhead: Well, they all play a part don’t they? One of my favorite memories of a NY icon who has passed was Willi Ninja. I loved watching him work and was so kind to me though he didn’t even know me at all. I am still inspired by his kindness and his spirit.
BANZAI!!!!!!!!!! photo gallery by Tania Fuentez Media: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ajournalist/sets/72157630138293620/