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The story of the Ritual Roasters show

There has been an exciting deal of controversy about the show preceding mine at Ritual Roasters.

To get some context about the controversy, you may want to first read this article.

One thing to keep in mind is that these photographs of mine that are on display at Ritual Roasters are meant to show off a range of viewpoints. With this project I am not as interested in my own opinions and beliefs as I am in expressing points of view through collaboration. I found passionate people at Burning Man, and I asked them two questions. "How do you think the world needs to change? What image might help to bring about that change?" We would then collaborate on an image.

Keith Phillips was serious about not accumulating personal debt, and wanted his photo to reflect his warning. He had recently fallen into the trap and ended up 35k in the hole. He was a harbinger of what was to come. In his photo, the credit cards seem to have been jammed into his skull with great violence. His haunted expression, his situation, his message is prescient of all the troubles the nation got into.

I was unaware of the previous show until my work had been displayed at Ritual, and I find the whole discussion of my relative fluffiness to be funny and odd. I looked up Ms. Layzer, whose work was up before mine. I do think she can be quite "serious" but you could say that her photo series of sweet children playing in the spray of an open hydrant are "fluffy" as well. While often playful, I don't think my body of work lacks seriousness.

I've been asked my own opinion on the controversy. I think it's quite interesting, but I suspect the baristas know more than I do, as they were there. Like everyone else, I've read the email Ms. Layzer posted, wherein Eileen confessed it was much too serious and wonderful for her unworthy gallery of fluff. To me it read as a very hyperbolic self-execration. Her letter is essentially self effacing and conciliatory. The question in many people's minds is how is a muted elegy to a dead womans belongings is less "fluffy" than my photo about nations in conflic titled "Inextricable."

A Palestinian woman came to me at Burning Man. For this collaboration, the vision was of a pair of breasts, straining to pull apart from each other, to define themselves separately, yet unable to break their bonds. Her Palestinian breast was adorned with her embattled nation's flag, and her pierced nipple was then connected to another, decorated with the Israeli flag. Since it was first posted, many Israelis and Palestinians have remarked on the depth and power of the image, for them.

I am almost delighted to be told that my work is "fluffy" but I'm uncertain as to why. I think I have a reputation as someone who is respectful to his subjects and thrives on collaboration. I certainly believe in the value of fun, and that if you live a life where you are not regularly feeling joy, you are doing it wrong.

Marque Cornblatt is a local artist, who has been going to Burning Man for years to perform at the Temple of The Waterboy. He and I were discussing the way that people get trapped in the cycle of wage slavery, and lose themselves, lose their joy. Marque and I decided to show his Drowning Businessman character, screaming into a cellphone. He's under water. His voice escapes only as an air bubble.

I worked for 12 straight years at Silicon Graphics, commuting for two hours daily in order to stare at my computer screen in a windowless place, writing lines of computer code that may never be seen. I think I spent a year of my life just sitting in traffic waiting to be somewhere else. My wife got a look at this thing called Burning Man, and it was the only vacation she ever asked for. I had to use up all my vacation days and it was a big deal to get time off work. It was only after I woke up, that I realized I had been sleeping through my life.

I was profoundly changed by that event. It woke me up. It fired my creativity. It made me want to participate in a larger project, and connect to the artistic community. I am more alive right now because of the people I met at Burning Man. These pictures are my way of paying back all that generosity and fabulousness and fuckery with whatever talent I have.

After all these years I've collected some compelling portraits. I put up a Kickstarter page, to solicit contributions to making these photos into a book. The community put up the money joyfully. It felt like connecting a circle. Five hundred people came out of the woodwork and the full amount needed was raised in days.

I would never have done this without Chicken John. I realize he is a controversial character. I have had my run-ins with him. For example, some years ago I received a puzzling number of congratulations on my upcoming show and performance at the Odeon, Chicken John's bar. I knew nothing about it. I had not collected my photos for this and I had no act! With my name on the line, I had to scramble to put something together at the last instant. It was a wonderful night, though. That was the sort of relationship I and many performers have had with Chicken. He is an Impresario and famously eccentric. How I ended up promoting my book with a show at Ritual Coffee is somewhat bizarre.

Years ago, I got a grant from the Internet Archive to print color copies. I made them into a beautiful photo book and bound a hundred books by hand. I gave copies to my fellow Burners. A big Madison Avenue agent agreed to represent the book and shopped it around. He said that every publisher said they would like to have published it...but that "Burning Man books don't sell. And may I keep my copy?" I was then told "Do you know how often a publisher wants to retain a manuscript as a keepsake?? Try never. They are inundated with books." A local publisher told me he wished he lived in a world where he could print something he personally believed in, and I just gave up.

Chicken John called me, out of the blue, and said "You're doing a stupid thing by asking the Establishment to publish an Anti-Establishment book. It'll never happen. I want to discuss how to make it happen." I didn't know what to think. I told him my address and said he could visit at any time. Minutes later, Chicken walked in, Eileen in tow, and he gave me a speech that knocked me over. My wife Jackie was nodding vigorously throughout. He told me my stuff had value. He told me that many many people wanted it to get out to the world. I told him how it did not work, might never work, he reasoned all my objections aside and made me trust that something better could happen. Chicken John is an essential part of the story of how my work of over a decade now exists for you all to have.

We hadn't talked for months, then a couple days ago, Chicken called and asked me if I would like to have a show, put it up that night, right when I was trying to figure out how to sell several thousand books with no budget and a demanding day job. I am deliriously grateful, I am thanking all beings, all the stars, all that hippie junk, thank you.

This good fortune has appeared out of nowhere, and I mean that in every sense. One day Chicken John knocks on my door, barges in, and tells me that this book will happen, can happen, and to have faith. He gives me a speech so beautiful, with no cynicism, that it shakes me to the core.

This crazy controversy will hopefully benefit more than it damages. I know I have nothing but love in my heart for all the players. And I'm grateful that it all resulted in you reading this odd little article.

Julian Cash

To see more info and more links about this, hop over to the shows page.