Faye Orlove has a pink dildo hanging on the wall of Junior High, the retail store-slash-gallery/performance arts space she runs in Los Angeles. The dildo is part of artist Zoie Harmon's first show -- a regular occurrence in the Thai Town space. Only five months old, Junior High has hosted musicians like Lisa Prank and Frankie Cosmos and also served as the inaugural show space for a bevy of young talent in a city known mostly for its cutthroat arts and entertainment scene. It's also undeniably geared toward a certain kind of femme gaze -- bathed in neon pink light and peppered throughout with items like Orlove's celebrity tarot deck, a dark pink dad hat embroidered with “Art Baby" and a Drake makeup bag, .
Orlove -- who's directed music videos for artists like Mitski, Palehound, and Downtown Boys, and worked for clients like Fox's ADHD and The FADER -- has created a safe haven of sorts for the kinds of folks most underserved and excluded from the traditional art world. Through Junior High, Orlove (a cis white woman) provides a vessel for oft-marginalized groups to bring their ideas to life -- whether it be an otherworldly installation space or a Caribbean food pop-up/concert/fundraiser -- all in one fluid and super-functional space. We spoke to her about LA art, advice for creatives, and how to run a non-profit on top of a day job.
When you first got here, what kinds of art scenes did you find?
My whole life, I've gravitated toward music scenes; my friends all play music. I met the best friends of my life through music, but I don't play music, so I always felt eager to be part of a community I can actually contribute something to. Which is how I got into making music videos and band art and album art.
There are a lot of people on Instagram and stuff that I ended up meeting in the last couple of years out here. It seemed like the digital and visual arts scene was, maybe not quite that established, but those people were around and lived digitally. Now, there's a community where you can actually hang out in the flesh.
Since starting this, I've met so many people that have collectives that book music and stuff, and I knew nothing about this for the first few years I lived here. There just aren't a lot of show spaces. I grew up in DC, where all the museums were free, there were house shows every night in different homes. It wasn't like this, and LA specifically needs so many more arts-driven spaces for young people.
I think about the plight of the Smell; even if you have a venue space, there aren't many geared toward teens or toward “amateur" artists. I learned about Junior High through its Kickstarter, so it's cool that you're already linking up with other collective spaces.
I want to! I want the whole thing to be collaborative. This is zero percent about me. A lot of it's my aesthetic, but the only event here I've curated myself was a couple of weeks ago, that Best Friends Forever show. That is the first event in five months of doing this that I put together; everything else has been pitched to me. I'm collaborative with people; like our tarot event, I met Sewa [Adekoya]. She bought my celebrity tarot deck, so I was like, “Oh, you're into tarot." Turns out she's the coolest, so I asked if she'd ever want to do a workshop here. We sculpted the event together, but that was her doing. I want everything here to be collaborative and with collectives that exist, collectives that feel inspired to form because of this space. People are always like, “How do you book a show here?", thinking I'm gonna hand them some intricate form. I'm like, “Oh, email me. Pitch it to me."
Along with music and art shows, I know Junior High also does workshops and speaking events. How have you seen the reception to Junior High change since it opened, and what's surprised you?
One thing I've learned about the space is that people really wanna come to education stuff, the stuff that I was always not sure about. I knew music would make money; we had a show that went around the corner, for the Front Bottoms, but there were a couple like that, like the Waxahatchee show's gonna sell out. That's not surprising to me, but it's surprising to me when we host a lecture with someone who was a pioneer in the Black Cat Riots, and thirty plus people come and pay for the event and wish him a happy birthday, this 80-year-old man who's a civil rights activist. And last night's tarot workshop shocked me; it was packed in here, and not everyone even got their readings done.
It's a balance, trying to book things that I know people will come to so I can make money, with stuff that's fun and on the outskirts. It shocked me when people come to that stuff, and I love it.
When I first learned where Junior High is located [in LA's Thai Town], it's not where you'd expect. In my experience, high school kids tend to congregate downtown, or near Fairfax or Melrose, or anyplace with a large student population. Here, I didn't pay attention to the youth presence until Junior High brought me there.
There's not a lot else going on with art, but it feels very central to me. I also selfishly just live across the street and don't drive, so I knew I wanted something walking or busable. I also don't think it's as important that I'm near a school; what I tried to do is make it kind of central and super accessible by public transit. Most people take the bus to get here—you did—and I wanted to make sure it wasn't a matter of kids need a car, or someone to take them, or it's in a sketchy place.
I'm obsessed with the Smell, and have been going there since before I've lived here; when I'd come visit, I'd go. But I never felt safe outside there. So it was important to me that this was a place that people could sit outside and chill, and feel comfortable.
The vibe here definitely isn't like a coffee shop, more like someone's adaptable, cute living room.
When I was first coming up with the whole idea, I thought I would sell coffee here and get the whole license, hire someone cool who knew coffee, and have people come hang out. That was definitely a revenue stream I thought about, and it just didn't come to fruition because of permits and stuff like that. But I always wanted it to feel like a… Did you ever have a teacher in high school or something where, if you had a really bad day, you could eat lunch in their room away from everyone? I had that, and I could just go cry. I wanted Junior High to feel like a space where, if you don't feel like going anywhere else, you could come here.
The use of pink throughout Junior High is striking because a lot of gallery spaces tend not to be femme-centric, or a formal, “genderless" in a way that tends to be gendered regardless. When you were putting together the design for Junior High, did you have it in your heart to cater toward femme-ness and to try to create a safe harbor for that?
For me, it was more about making the space fit my vibe. I'm under the theory that if I'm comfortable, other people will feel that and come in and feel comfortable as well. It's less about me wanting like, femmes only; I hope everyone comes in, and so many people have come through who are as different from me as can be, and also people who I'm instantly like, you're my new best friend. The pink is more a comfort, and I hope non-femme people feel just as good and happy in here as a teen girl. I want it to have its own energy and aesthetic; does it deter some people? I'm curious about that.
The pink is definitely warm and inviting, and like Chinatown's Friend Mart (run by artists Tuesday Bassen and Ben Goetting), it all feels cohesive.
There's a vibrant illustrative community in Los Angeles, and it feeds into a lot of industries like animation. When you start going through peoples' Instagrams, you see everyone's connected and has amazing work, but only a portion of them are able to make physical manifestations of their work, even just prints. The fact that you're making that investment for IRL things, and also hosting artists who may not otherwise have made their installations a reality, is then huge.
Yeah, Zoie has never had a show before, and it would probably be hard to pitch this to a different space being like, “I have no experience, none of the pieces are made yet. When are you open?" And me being like, “Yeah let's do it!" But the point of the space is to promote… I don't wanna say women, because I've gotten into trouble with being not as a trans-inclusive as I want to be, which is feedback I've gotten about some of the vagina-centric merch, but as a cis female artist, I never felt like I could have my work in a gallery or in a show. The divide between being a young, struggling artist and fucking Jeff Koons or something felt astronomical. I want Junior High to be right in between; you get to showcase your work and show women can make art, trans people can make art, people of color can make art, but it's not at the level where it's inaccessible to other people to come and enjoy it and explain it.
In DC, I would go after school to look at the Portrait Gallery and get a sandwich, and I loved that there was this huge Notorious B.I.G. painting; but there was also Thomas Jefferson and shit. No, I want Patti Smith, I want Stevie Nicks. I wanted to make a gallery that promotes important, non-white male figures.
Junior High is very much a part of you, but it's also taken on a life outside of your own. As its owner and curator, how do you maintain the Junior High brand, not just in aesthetic but also as a safe space?
It's tricky because most of these people, I don't know; I'm never fully sure that things are gonna be safe and inclusive, which are the two main things. I get a lot of weird emails, so I have to vet things. Someone wanted to put an event here about drag, for a book about the drag scene in LA, but it seemed like the emailer was this cis dude popping into this scene; it felt gaze-y and weird. I didn't end up booking it.
So I make a lot of judgment calls; I say no most of the time to boys who want their bands to play. Fifty percent of my emails are probably girls wanting to help, and fifty percent are like that. I always say that I appreciate them reaching out, but it's not right for the space. I do think that anyone using their free time to pursue art or music, whether it be a straight dude or a trans lady, it's still important and good. But if I'm the one here at every event, I want to make sure it's something I care about, so it's not just another show. Things have to be to my taste and my ethos, aka important and needing a home.
Social media seems to be the connecting fabric between so many of these newer, interesting spaces, and without like, random Facebook friends responding to warehouse parties, there's no centralized place for all of that space to come together. If you're a kid in LA, you have to literally click into the right circle.
The last thing I want is for this to feel like an insider thing. That was also part of the retail aspect; even people walking by can come in. I've just felt excluded from too much stuff in my life to ever want to make a human feel that way. I don't get that vibe; I still feel that way with a lot of artists in LA, whom I refuse to work with. The point of art is to make the human condition accessible, so why are you trying to make it seem like you're in this clique? I want everyone who walks in to book something.
While Junior High has been one of your ongoing projects, you're a prolific freelance animator, illustrator, and publisher [of the ad-free paper The Media]. How has that side of your work changed since Junior High opened?
This space barely pays for itself, so I don't make any money. My freelance has not died down. I've been exhausted; I've genuinely cried because I'm so tired. I'm here at least forty hours a week, even when the shop's not open, because I'm cleaning, I'm booking, I'm meeting with people. On top of that, I'm working on at least five projects. I don't want that to slow down, because that's my pride. Junior High is joyful; it makes me happy to bring people together, but I don't want this to become my whole world, so I want to keep doing music videos, doing work for NPR, Marketplace. I'm working on a music video now for my friend Enongo [Lumumba-Kasongo], who plays as SΔMMUS and is a video game-themed rapper. I'm also working on stuff for myself, like a series of patches and pins all about how I love taking selfies and they make me feel radical. The two aren't intertwined really at all, except sometimes I'll work on freelance here, or I'll book stuff from home. So it hasn't in any way slowed down how much work I have… but I'm not complaining, because being a successful freelancer is a blessing. Like, “Oh what, you want me to do this for exposure?" No no no, that's not buying my cat dinner.
But the work load was not something I factored in when I was doing this. I was like, I'll work from home so this'll be easy! But it's fucking hard, and I was actually meeting with Becky [Gebhardt] and Mona [Tavakoli] from the Rock'n'Roll Camp for Girls, where I volunteer every summer, about doing a monthly thing here. They came in and were like, “You're living your dream!" I was like, “Am I? I'm so, so tired. I didn't imagine my dream feeling like this." And they were like, “Yeah, people like you work sixty hours a week to make sure they're not at a desk working forty." The dream isn't supposed to be easy; that's a myth. There's no bone in my body that'd be okay with just chilling, even though some days I'm like, “Whyyy." So that helped, and knowing how hard they work with their own non-profit, made me be like, “The dream isn't supposed to be easy. Let me regroup my thoughts; this is what I wanted. This is still what I want." I'm working a lot, and I like working. I'm a Virgo.
my piece for "eat me" opening tmrw night at @welcometojuniorhigh (curated by @stripmalldreams and @justaboutglad) ✨
A photo posted by virgo / faye orlove (@fayeorlove) on Aug 19, 2016 at 10:38am PDT
I always associate Virgos with Beyoncé.
Yeah, my fellow Virgo. I saw this mug once that was like, “You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé," and it's like, yeah, if she can literally take over the world, I can run a shop and take freelance stuff on the side. Though I'm never really sure what's on the side. Am I a gallery owner that does freelance, or am I an animator that runs a non-profit?
It takes some time, as an artist, how to think about the money part. And now owning your own shop is its own thing.
You don't learn that in school; you learned to write, and I went to film school so I learned to make movies. But there wasn't a single class on budgeting or invoicing.
Yeah, when I had to make my first invoice, I literally Googled, “What does an invoice look like."
Actually, that is something we should book here. “How to assess how much value your work has, and to invoice properly." I've made up my own rules along the way, but I would've loved something like that when I was 18 and got my first job making band t-shirts. Like, should I charge nothing because I have no experience, or should I charge $200 because this design is gonna be used everywhere?
I got a job for a certain company that's notoriously bad at paying people, so I took this approach where, instead of being like, “What's your budget," I did the assignment and was like, “Who should I invoice?" It was inherent that I demand to be paid; I expect to be paid. They wrote back like, “Sorry for the miscommunication, we weren't expecting to pay. This was for exposure," the worst fucking phrase ever, “But since there was miscommunication, what's your rate? We're happy to make it work." And I was like, “Score." Because I knew they weren't planning on paying me!
I don't advise doing the work first, but this was a special case. I liked approaching it in this way, as opposed to being like, “I generally see around $250 for a project like this, does that sound reasonable?"
These big companies think that they don't have to pay for our art because they think they're giving artists “exposure," but in a way, that's helpful, because then you can get other work. But it's painful when you see a magazine you've contributed to and you see an ad for Chanel, and Burberry, and all this shit. And then you did something for free. I know how much money you have! I know who owns your company. Pay me. I'm doing a service and it's a skill.
And what Junior High does is help build up young artists' self-worth: Yes, you can and should get paid to do this.
Another thing I do that I think is important is, I don't take any cuts for the artwork sold in the gallery. I know that's how a lot of galleries make money, but since we're donation-based, I love being able to tell artists, “If you sell a piece, that's your money. You made it." That is special, getting to offer that. That felt really good. I wanna see more artists getting paid, especially women. Because we get paid less, which is so cute!