(Photo by Joe Schildhorn/BFAnyc.com)
Producer/Artist/Longtime Friend of Paper Moby recently caused a stir when he published an Op-Ed in which he argued that New York "had entered the pantheon of big cities that people visit and observe and patronize and document, but don't actually add to." A resident of the Naked City since the '80s, Moby moved to L.A. in 2011 and has since expressed his feelings that where artists and creatives are concerned, L.A. provides a freer, more supportive environment than New York; he discussed how L.A. is a city in which less emphasis is placed on success, experimentation is encouraged, and failure is tolerated (and even expected). In that same piece, he describes his other main attraction to City of Angels: "its singular pre-apocalyptic strangeness." To that end, the producer has spent the past two years working on a photography exhibit inspired by the apocalypse and its role in the formation of cults, many of which famously made their homes in the Hollywood Hills. The show, Innocents, opens tomorrow at Hollywood's Project Gallery and we had the chance to talk to Moby about his photos, hear why he's "ripe for conversion" into a cult, and get clarification about his New York vs. L.A. comments once and for all.
Tell me about the exhibit. What are some of the influences behind the show?
In a strange way, September 11 was an influence because I was in New York on September 11 and it's also my birthday. Something I noticed that was really odd in the wake of the tragedy was that you could take a picture, for example, of a can of beans in a supermarket on September 10th, and then take a picture of a can of beans in the supermarket on September 12 and somehow it had a different significance. Like, collectively we all added this strange significance and meaning to it just because something was taking place after a huge, tragic event.
So the theme of the show is this idea that the apocalypse has happened. A few years ago, some friends of mine started getting obsessed with this idea of the Mayan apocalypse happening on December 21, 2012 so I started thinking things like, "What if the apocalypse actually has happened and suddenly the same sort of approach to the mundane and the banal that fills our lives would have a different meaning. Like a picture of a supermarket pre-apocalypse would somehow have different meaning and significance post-apocalypse. Even though the supermarket itself would be the exact same thing." I liked this idea of taking the commonplace and almost adding these sort of -- for lack of a better expression -- semiotic layers. Some of the pictures in the show are fairly neutral pictures but they have this subtext that they're photographs taken either during or after the apocalypse.
Moby, Innocents, 2013
And how does this idea of cults fit in?
A lot of cults have this belief that the apocalypse is just about to happen and they're the ones who are gonna be prepared for it. I thought it would be an interesting idea to create this fictitious cult [in the context] of reacting to an apocalypse that has already happened as opposed to a cult anticipating one.
What does this cult look like and behave like post-apocalypse?
This post-apocalyptic cult of innocence is all based on the idea of shame -- both personal and collective shame -- and that's why they're doing everything in their power to conceal themselves.
Shame towards what?
For destructive behavior. It's shame towards their role in a society and a culture that was just incredibly, unnecessarily destructive.
Moby, Innocents, 2013
Were you looking at any particular cults for inspiration? As weird as this sounds, do you have a favorite?
My "favorite cult" -- insofar as you're allowed to have favorites -- is The Source Family. One of the reasons they're my favorite is because compared to most cults, they really were incredibly benign. The cult leader had been a business man who started a vegetarian restaurant and he became a hippie and starting teaching meditation and so his restaurant was filled with glamorous, beautiful people and he had glamorous, beautiful employees working there. And they all moved in together and it was this sort of funny, kind of stylish, sex-driven cult. They were all 20-years-old, really attractive and wearing these amazing white robes and sleeping with each other. And of course, like all cults, it went wrong but it didn't go wrong with anyone killing anyone else. There was no mass suicide, no murders -- it just went wrong in that the head of the cult decided he was god and could have sex with as many cult members as he wanted to. They're my favorite just because they made such an effort to be as glamorous as possible. You see pictures of them in 1970 on the beach and it looks like a film shoot.
Using the term 'cult' loosely, are you a cult follower of anything or anyone?
I'm kind of surprised that I've never belonged to a cult because I was so ripe for conversion. 'Cause I have to admit -- and this is kind of embarrassing -- I really love joining things. In high school, I became a punk rocker so I was part of the hardcore punk cult and then I got more involved in electronic music and rave culture and I just happily wore those clothes. And now I've been a vegan for 26 years and that has cult-like qualities. Had there been more active cults when I was growing up, I'm sure I would've been in one of them just because there's something really comforting about being in a group of people and getting the sense that there's a leader that knows what's going on. I grew up in Connecticut in the '70s and then in New York City in the '80s and there wasn't much in the way of cults in those places. I think had I grown up in Los Angeles in the '70s and '80s, I would definitely have been a very active cult member.
Moby, Innocents, 2013
Why do you think cults have flourished in California so much more than anywhere else in the U.S.?
One of the things that's definitely contributed to L.A.'s weirdness and the growth of cults here is that you can do things in private that you can't do in most big cities. You can go behind the gate of your house and have complete weird, suburban privacy in the middle of the city. And also L.A. has this strange combination of the banal suburban with really disconcerting, grand nature. You have these strip malls right next to mountain ranges. I find there's something about the juxtaposition of those two things that's really fascinating -- the strip malls that are so cheap and tawdry and the mountain ranges that are so ancient and stolid right next to each other.
L.A. has such weird zoning -- or lack thereof.
L.A. is a big, strange, uncohesive suburb. To a large extent, that's actually why I really love it. I love the disconcerting lack of cohesion and just how vast it is. The fact that there really has never been zoning so you'll have a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright house next to a trailer park essentially.
Moby, Innocents, 2013
Let's talk about New York vs. L.A. and your feeling that New York is less hospitable for artists these days.
The thing is, I was born on 148th St. and I spent most of my life living in New York and I still think New York is one of the most beautiful, remarkable, dynamic cities on the planet but in a way, I almost feel like New York is a victim of its own success because since it's such a wonderful place, every rich person on the planet wants to live there. The result is that most of my friends who are struggling, aspiring artists, writers or musicians unfortunately can't afford to live there anymore. Honestly, most of them are moving here -- to L.A. Just because they can still afford the rent and still have enough space to do their art.
So would you ever move back to New York?
If I moved back, I would probably end up living in the far reaches of the outer boroughs. I lived on Mott St. for a long time but everybody I know is moving further and further away to either Innwood or Ditmas Park or Bed-Stuy. But I won't ever for a second malign or criticize New York because it is so remarkable and tolerant and wonderful and I think it's really exciting that Bill de Blasio is the mayor so I could see moving back at some point.
Innocents runs at Project Gallery (1553 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles) between February 21-March 30