Transmissions: “Heute Leider Nicht”
TRANSMISSIONS is a communicable and speculative sociological research column by JORDAN RICHMAN. Traversing the globe and immersing himself into perceived moments of relevance, Richman mines the fields of fashion and culture – extracting with you his thoughts, encounters, and societal foreshadowing.
In this installment, our columnist finds friendship and community at Berghain, contemplates inaccessibility at the Whitney Biennial, and skips the Venice one for wellness in Costa Rica. He's bringing us souvenirs from his travels, including behind the scenes artist tête-à-têtes, exclusive literary premieres, a Joan Didion packing list, and plenty of tea from the Ritz.
The Berghain Spiral
While in the sauna of the subterranean spa at Chateau Voltaire sweating with my friends Courtney and Margherita we go back and forth on whether we’ll be Easy Jetting off to Berlin for the weekend. Our friend Bill Kouligas will be DJing at Berghain along with several other artists from his label, Pan Records. (I had heard about the Berlin show during Paris fashion week over dinner at Au Pied de Cochon with Bill, Philippe, Erwan, Anina, Jan, and Vere after the Ottolinger show.) Broiling, the three of us leap out of the sauna and plunge together into the cold pool. Hydrating after the spa on Vesper martinis at Harry’s New York Bar, we book flights on Hopper.
Waiting to board our Friday afternoon flight from Orly, it becomes obvious who else is using this plane as a Berghain commuter shuttle. In the rows behind me I spot artist Erwan Sene of the Paris pig dinner and the same week’s Courreges’ party, where he’d organized the music.
The plane lands and after another hour on the S-Bahn I arrive in Mitte and walk up the six flights of stairs to my friend Laura Hepp’s flat. She’s moving to Paris the following afternoon to work with another friend, Octave Perrault – who has literally the hottest architecture startup, Zeroth. We vow not to let Laura’s move stop us from dancing until the morning sun shines through the Panorama Bar shades.
That evening, unhappy with the orthopedics of our shoe options, Laura rents a Sixt Fiat and we drive an hour outside the city to an outlet mall in Wustermark with a Croc store. Once we’ve found suitable footwear, we’re back on the road to Kreuzberg for a pre-Berghain supper with Tobias Spichtig, writer Theresa Patzschke, and their friends Cynthia and Annina.
We pull up to Berghain around 1:30 am. Courtney, Margherita, and Andreas meet us at the start of the path leading up to the infamous guarded gates. It’s embarrassing to admit, but Berghain is one of the few places that still makes me feel a tinge of nerves approaching the door. We’re all on the list, so we go up the right. They check my ID and ask for my digital covid certificate QR code. I tell the doorman I don’t have one – “I’m American” – and show my CDC paper card. They tell me “nein.” I tell them that’s scheisse. I haven’t had problems previously at other clubs – Ficken 3000, for instance. The other American in our squad is also denied. Theresa tries using her impeccable Germanness to negotiate, but the doorman tells her we can come back with the QR codes and enter. Tobi is already inside, but the rest of us walk off to the side of the building. I text several Euro friends for screenshots of their QRs. One hits me back pretty quickly – they’re not fully vaxxed (!), but they can send their brother’s code. He has the most German name I’ve ever read – actually, it’s four names in total – but a couple of umlauts later I’m in. Minutes later my American friend tries the same coup, but having caught on to my grift the guards deny her, and she’s banned for the night. My friends assure me that it’s fine – she’s an influencer, and gets to go everywhere else. Still I feel crushed for her having come all this way. (My concern is assuaged when I learn that the next night, she would get the full Berghain experience that even Elon Musk was famously denied.)
We check our clothes at the Garderobe and Theresa leads us up the back way straight to the bar. I have a tradition of only drinking Long Island ice teas here, though I’ve blacked out the habit’s origins. Practically everyone in the Berlin scene is sitting around Panorama Bar – from Bill’s girlfriend Cosima to Steven Warwick. On the way back from the bathroom, I stumble over a curvy blonde babe at the end of bar. I commence apologizing, confessing to be a bit inebriated. Impolitely, she doesn’t respond. I look more closely – her back is to me – and after a very long seeming few seconds I realize it’s a sculpture by Anna Uddenberg.
Theresa and I head to the dance floor. I love the black trousers with suspenders she’s wearing. She tells me they were her uniform back when she was shoveling shit in the horse stables as a teenager. We dance hard, at moments almost moshing. Felix joins us. Felix and I run into each other all over the world, and at the oddest places. Last time I saw him was in South Beach in front of the Ritz. The next time will be in NY at my friend’s sister Laura Love’s wedding. Moving through the crowd I collide with Analisa Teachworth, one of my closest New York friends. In the moment, I’m stunned to see her here in Berlin. I have drunkenly forgotten she’s moved here and is doing the artist residency up at Callie’s. Over the music I shout to her that we’re exactly where we are meant to be. Early in the pandemic I had an epiphany sitting in the Akeem Smith exhibition at Red Bull Studios. Watching the film, a compilation of Jamaican dance hall clips, I teared up reflecting on how fortunate we have all been and how, growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I could have just as easily never made any of these incredible friends. I don’t want to imagine what my life would have been without them and without being exposed to so many places, cultures and ideas. Miraculously, at Berghain I discover these feelings of gratitude remain. Like the virus itself, they’re resilient.
A bunch of people make another group visit to the bathroom. As the stall door is closing, a thin man I don’t recognize pushes in with his dark suit and buzz cut. He attempts small talk about work and asks what I do. Of course, this is the last question I want to answer in the toilets. Photography is verboten at Berghain, and networking should be, too. The next day I wake up to DMs in my message requests – “we briefly met in bh toilet lol” – using Insta like it’s LinkedIn.
The professional encounter reminds me I’m on deadline: my interview with pornstar-cum-Euphoria actress Chloe Cherry for Buffalo Zine is going to print the next day and I haven’t finished writing my intro. Standing at the bar with Cosima, Andreas Grill, and Christian Velasquez, I quickly draft something up for my editors. We try for a good 20 minutes to order drinks but the bartender ignores us. I tap “send” just in time to hear Bill’s set starting on the other side of the room and give up on the drink.
His set with Low Jack is glorious. It is the most outstanding night of dancing since the pandemic began. (The only thing that even comes close was my birthday back in October – Bill and Felix also DJed in an underground Paris cave.) In this moment I think how incredible it must be for DJs, like benevolent Gods orchestrating everyone’s movements, emotions, and possibly fortunes. I’m euphoric in my new “The Workers Crocs.”
Clowns and LaCava
I’m at the opening of "Clowns’ Kingdom," an exhibition at Paris’ La Maison du Danemark curated by Pierre-Alexandre Mateos and Charles Teyssou and inspired by Lars von Trier. I’m surprised to see my Danish friend Esben Weile Kjær in Paris, but less so when I notice his enormous inflatable jester sculpture in the background. Esben is in conversation with a middle-aged woman wearing far too much makeup for an art opening, even one on the Champs-Élysées. I interrupt to say hello and when Esben kisses me he whispers, “one sec,” and resumes his conversation. At that moment, several dozen photographers line up to take their picture. I hear one of them call the woman Princess Mary. Oops: she’s the Crown Princess of Denmark. When I get home in the morning I rewatch Von Trier’s Brechtian opus Dogville. The film’s horror, paired with the humility of last night and ending up again at Le Connétable, stays with me.
Flying from Paris to Zurich early Sunday morning for Tobi’s first fashion cover shoot, I think of Von Trier and the cruelty Nicole Kidman’s character faces at the hands of the townspeople as I pass over provincial towns and farmland. I have brought the galley of Stephanie LaCava’s upcoming novel, I Fear My Pain Interests You, for the flight and I start reading. From the first pages, I’m mesmerized, sucked in – transported onto another airplane, where main character Margot has locked herself in the lavatory. There’s turbulence in the book and IRL. The plane drops along with my stomach as I read:
The mirror in the plane bathroom had fingerprints all over it and fog-thick grease where the soap had back- splashed. One hour into the flight, plenty of hands had been busy here. I scooted in and pushed at the latch with a knuckle. The light flickered and brightened but the bolt stuck midway. I swallowed hard and drew a paper towel to wipe the glass. The grease was still there, I’d just spread it around. I pushed down the faucet and destroyed the soft-bodied soap-thing. Then ran my finger under the drip and tried the stain again, not its reflection on my skin. And the mirror cleared, to show flesh and marks of teeth.
I looked away and pulled two more towels from the dispenser and put them down on the toilet seat. The sheet on the left sucked itself to the plastic ring, catching urine, shrinking. The broken light flashed like a strobe. Bright, then half-dark. I pulled down my jeans and lowered myself slowly, trying not to touch anything. There was a sudden burst of turbulence and I dropped onto the seat, turning my head to see my face.
I saw the indentation below my bottom lip where I had been biting down. Lit by the blue pallor of the light above, the red streak appeared half-black, like in an old movie or cartoon, or an X-ray machine, like the skeleton of electrocution through a shocked body. Another brand in black and blue. This had happened before, broken skin begetting scars. Like when I gnawed my thumbnail and made the quick bleed. I would taste it, touch my face. My eyelids drooped and I sat there, head in hands.
Stephanie’s writing is exquisite. This past decade we have lost track of how much great writing is about impeccable taste. Not Stephanie, with the most elegant references, striking imagery, and fucked up tales. Only still in galleys until September it’s already the cool girl book of the year. You thought getting into Berghain was challenging? Securing a preview copy of LaCava’s novel is a testament not just to your coolness but to intellectual rigor – it is being published by Verso after all.
Tea at the Ritz
I’m back in Paris and it’s my last night, so I head to the Place Vendôme for a farewell dinner with a new friend at the old Ritz. Upon arrival I FaceTime my Transmissions editor in the rainy jardin, where I declare that I want to skip the Venice Biennale opening, then head to the piscine locker room for a little Ritz Spritz before I finally make my way to Bar Vendôme. The friend catches me up on the gossip: New York-based media, whose staff keep exodusing en masse for patronage-based “creators platforms,” continue to replace esteemed writers with web2 bloggers. It wasn’t the first Condé Nasty drag I’d heard that week. It’s extraordinary how quickly one can go from gig economy to girlboss gaslight gatekeep these days. I take comfort being in Paris at the Miu Miu show and not in fascist Brandy Mellville knockoffs at a café in Dimes Square.
The Whitney Banale
When I receive my invitation to the opening of the 18th Whitney Biennial, I’m bemused. I had assumed the museum would put an end to this exhibition of American art following the controversies of the last ones. But no: like most art world institutions, the Whitney has an ability to ignore the will of the community that never ceases to amaze. The curators seem self-aware though: they have titled the latest biennial “Quiet As It’s Kept,” as if they hope the show opens, runs, and closes without anyone noticing – and can avoid the career-jeopardizing call outs, boycotts, and artist withdrawals of past versions. On site, there’s a wall text describing the show as “an exhibition that resides within the Museum’s history, collection, and reputation.”
Still, there are a number of important works and significant artists including Alex Da Corte, Buck Ellison, Kandis Williams, Leidy Churchman, Moved by the Motion, Wangshui, and Emily Barker, to name but a few. It’s the first major institutional recognition in America for Emily’s extremely consequential work. At the Whitney, their installation, Kitchen, exaggerates how space is experiences from the perspective of a wheelchair user, for the viewer to understand how “the seemingly mundane built environment and the mass production of objects harms people everyday.” The art world, like the rest of society, doesn’t comprehend its “inaccessibility as violence and segregation against disabled people,” Emily tells me.
Later on I’m nervous to go to a club in deep Brooklyn, thinking about that psychotic fire at Rash the previous weekend. I get into bed and set my alarm for 1am to meet Emily. On the L train, a man in an American flag jacket boards with a loud speaker and microphone, singing. I turn up the volume of my AirPods to drown him out with the early Y2K sounds of Play. Searching the enormous Bushwick venue, I finally find Emily backstage and congratulate them on redeeming an otherwise banal biennial.
JR: Can you break down the harms of mass production for me?
EB: Our entire world is built assuming people are a standard size, are a certain strength, and can walk. This isn’t the case for over 650 million of us – probably more. This isn’t the case for disabled people – or for children, the elderly, moms with strollers, people who wear skirts, even. Our world is built thoughtlessly to produce the most value for developers and investors and is thus designed like shit, to look like shit and not actually function for the our population’s largest minority.
In the past decade transparent/grated stairs have been put in newly built offices and libraries – so, people can’t wear skirts, tunics, or dresses without being completely violated by their colleagues and bosses. Was no femme consulted during that whole process? Did a man design it, either on purpose – which seems illegal – or on accident? Wheelchair users are thought about even less than skirt wearers when it comes to the space people have built, which is nearsighted considering that everyone gets hurt, sick, and old.
There is never an entire space, and rarely a mass-produced object, built with the consideration that disabled people exist en masse. I would blame the American eugenics program and ugly laws for this. Since the inception of this country, and many others, we have wanted disabled people to die – of neglect, of criminalization by policies – so we don’t have to think about or care for them. This is obvious in homelessness, as most homeless people are disabled, in the state of our inaccessible public transit, in our inaccessible public spaces, and in the fact that less of 1% of all housing a wheelchair user can even enter. There are even objects made for disabled people that we cannot use without help, because they were made by able bodied people. We are supposed to be grateful for a 10,000 dollar mobility device, the Firefly wheelchair scooter attachment for instance, which you can’t even lift into a vehicle.
JR: Are shows like the Whitney Biennial still important?
EB: This is a question you should ask me in another five years – we'll see if I get more grants now, but I’d assume to some extent yes, it is. People seem to make a big deal about it. I don’t exactly know how Gagosian, Pace, or Hauser and Wirth choose what’s a good investment for them to make. There are so many bad abstract painters to choose from. There are so many trendy alien sculptures or drawings of people doing drugs and partying for small trendy galleries to choose from. I can’t show at many places because of the lack of accessibility – so any show I can get is important to me as an emerging artist. I’m grateful to finally be recognized in this country – it’s weird to think the European art world cares more and wants to buy my work. Our values are so boring now, and we are only incentivized to produce capital in order to survive and have a decent quality of life, so I’m at least happy that the works that stood out asked for more of the audience.
JR: Critically, what do you think of “Quiet as It’s Kept”?
EB: I understand “quiet as it’s kept” as being another idiom for “hidden in plain sight,” and a lot of the works speak to that. I can’t really feel comfortable with being super critical, because you get punished in ways for biting the hand that feeds. But every show I’m in reminds me of the lack of thought for people with trauma that goes into these spaces. I had issues with the amount of sound being produced on the 5th floor and found it distressing installing with seven loud pieces happening. I was worried about the effect on neurodivergent or traumatized people coming to see the show. When I spoke to docents in front of my pieces it was difficult to think and communicate with the sound so loud. How are they going to give tours? I sent an email discussing this and didn’t hear back, and I don’t want to be punished for speaking out – which is often the case, and why nothing will ever really get much better. I heard they’re doing mornings without sound for sensory sensitive people, which is great, but it’s often hard to be on time when you rely on working parents and others for care and transportation. I’ll leave the rest of the criticism to critics and just think about my work.
JR: Do you have another favorite artist’s work in the Whitney Biennial?
EB: I don’t like giving out free publicity, because most other artists don’t know or give a fuck about issues facing disabled people in their own communities. That being said, Alfredo Jaar is different and my new adopted art father. He just doesn’t know it yet. He is everything my own father is not, and meeting him and seeing his work in person was a very moving, hopeful, and healing experience for me. Hearing him talk about his wife gave me hope that there are actually good men in the world. Knowing that someone in their 60s cares so much about what is actually happening to others and doesn’t compromise their values for money was so important. His piece 06.01.2020 18.39 (2022) is really urgent. In the installation, you feel as if your own autonomy is being threatened by police. It’s a real documented protest of the murder of George Floyd and it’s is brilliant and important for everyone to see that we have been and are using military tactics against our own citizens. He invited me to lunch at his studio that week with his team and he was so kind. I learned so much about having a successful practice making confrontational work.
JR: What is the next exhibition or work you want to make?
EB: You want the real tea?
JR: Yes please!
EB: I don’t currently have shows lined up. I’ve declined participation in a couple – the curator, who wanted to pay an artist fee of 200 dollars for 6 works and two shows, had been incredibly cruel to other disabled artists and disabled students of hers. And who included able-passing artists whose work I don’t want to show alongside due to personal and political reasons. I’ve already made large pieces for the next few years, more devastating and beautiful to me than the transparent kitchen piece, on things even closer to my heart. I made a piece that literally would be a free way to experience treatment for long Covid symptoms.
JR: You’re also developing your own housing in LA?
EB: I have, with the help of many people, been building out a green and sustainable solar powered RV for two years, after facing eviction on and off during Covid. I would like to show it at any museum to provide an example of a beautifully built accessible and affordable environment. Since my accident, I have never really been able afford any rent anywhere on my 675 dollars of SSI.
JR: Do you think about making what some would call “saleable” art?
EB: I’m thinking about making works on paper and canvas to sell, so I can stop complaining to people who don’t care about cripples or are jealous of me because they are fucking idiots who couldn’t exist in my body for 60 seconds. At this point I need get off austerity programs like SSI, medicaid, and IHSS caregiving. I’ll only need to afford 50,000 dollar out of pocket CRPS treatment. I’ll only need around 150k a year to get off SSI for a caregiver salary of 50k, 100k for health insurance and wheelchairs, and another 40k for my cost of living.
Not in Venice
After too many months of jet-setting I cancel my accommodations for the opening of the Venice Biennale at the last possible moment. What I really need is a proper vacation. I notice my friend Elena Rohrmoser Steinvorth’s Agua Claras in Costa Rica just won something like best new boutique eco-hotel on Instagram. It’s the perfect escape. Over dinner at Odeon before my flight, Nadia Moussa suggests I digital detox. We snack on my soon-to-be new standing order, the Buffalo chicken dumplings. After we finish taking selfies together in the women’s restroom – but we don’t post – I concur with Nadia. I head home and find my Telfar luggage bag, so old the raised logo has faded into nothingness, and assemble the following:
To Pack and Wear:
2 Adidas shorts
Praying camouflage ghillie hoodie
Grateful Dead tie dye t-shirt
Lacoste polo shirt
1 pair Balenciaga flip flops
1 pair Prada loafers
1 set Wispa shirt and shorts
1 set Charvet pajamas
Courrèges vinyl cap
JBL Flip 4
Le Bristol Hotel travel toothbrush and paste
Mason Pearson brush
Dr. Barbara Sturm face cream
Costa Brazil face serum
Jil Sander Sun perfume
Prada rain coat
Puppets and Puppets black and white cookie shoulder bag
Tribeca house keys
I Fear My Pain Interests You galley
On the flight, I commit to enjoying the jungle seclusion of Ele’s resort on the Caribbean coast by turning off my Instagram notifications and hiding the app in a random folder. I do the same for Gmail and Grindr. I still have cell service on the tiny second plane and post a story of the majestic misty early morning mountains announcing my digital hibernation. The hotel is exquisite, made up of Victorian cottages spread across a seemingly boundless property that extends to the sea. Instead of doom scrolling and being bombarded with hot takes on the Met Ball’s red carpet – I’d been to the previews already, anyway – I spend half an hour watching two spider monkeys frolicking in the trees from the pool. Later that night, blissfully far from Venice’s Golden Lions and Vogue’s Gilded Age, I am lounging on the most comfortable bed, in sustainable sheets softer than Pratesi. I reflect on how nice it is to be still.
The next morning while sipping chamomile tea I spot a sloth in front of my bungalow. I respect their slowness of movement, the leisure of hanging around upside down. This season fashion's powers-that-be decided destination shows are "in." The couture calendar is a carbon catastrophe, kicking off in Capri, followed by shows in Monaco, San Diego, Puglia, Los Angeles, New York, Seville, Lisbon, and Rome. I'll continue cruising around the jungle for now. I'm going sloth mode.