Ari Fish – Designer Interview

If you saw the first episode of the most recent less-than-spectacular Project Runway season, you may have caught a glimpse of avant garde artist Ari Fish breaking the mold.

interview by Charles Beckwith
photos by Kevin Schowengerdt at Rush Wade Studios

If you saw the first episode of the most recent less-than-spectacular Project Runway season, you may have caught a glimpse of avant garde artist Ari Fish breaking the mold. Many fans of edgier fashion and conceptual art would have liked to have seen more of her in the series, but there appear to have been obtuse fashionistas blocking the driveway. As Ari does not seem to identify herself as a fashion designer, we have dispensed with our normal designer dossier questionnaire.

This interview was conducted via electronic correspondence in two parts:

(part one)

In the context of the grand universal schematic of art and culture, and speaking to someone who has never been there, please tell me about Kansas City.

It’s difficult to really describe to people who have never been here, or have witnessed what a great art community we have. That sounds so cliche and exactly like every other art community out there. Every town is special, everyone is special, we are all unique, we are all supportive, blah, blah, blah. Kansas City is not it’s own little unique singular, delicate flower in the context of the art and culture world, it is a jungle. It’s not a one of a kind snowflake, it is a blizzard. It’s lonely and weird, intense and neurotic. This city is a sobering place with a drinking problem and a knack for getting down and truly being hedonistic for nothing but to be. I love KC.

Who are your major influences, and in what way have they shaped your perceptions and actions?

My mother and grandmother, and all the women in my family that have come before me, and basically when you speak in those terms, you are really saying every woman and every man, since we are all in way interconnected. You and I are related, as I am also related in some human way to some of my major influences like Laurie Anderson, Marcel Duchamp, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Akira Kurosawa, Terrence McKenna, Jackie O, Courtney Love, Yoko Ono, Buckminster Fuller, Crowdog, PJ Harvey, Marilyn Manson, Kenneth Wilber, Kurt Cobain, Krishnamurti, Seth Johnson, Ashley Miller. These people, like drugs, blew open, completely obliterated, my doors of perception. They moved me and shook me and agreed with me and paralleled and paralyzed my hopes and my aspirations. They fell over and they got up and with sincerety and cleverness. That means the world to me.


Are you more technical or instinctual? How do you balance function and inspiration in your work?

Function, instinct, technique, and inspire are never words that I much consider. So for the sake of your question, I’m trying to see how they play into my designs and my everyday. But I will try to be as clear as I can. I make things that I like. Everything I make, I believe I can go further with. I am never satisfied with my work and I am in constant competition with myself. It is sometimes hard for me to listen to people and their criticisms, because in actuality I am the most critical person I know. Imagine if we all pushed ourselves further? Our minds, our creativity, our consideration for others. Imagine if we all worked efficiently and with more love? If we all worked harder and pushed ourselves harder, would the world technologically and spiritually progress faster than we could ever imagine? This is me going off on a tangent here, but imagine if we all went to work and did our work in the actual time it should take instead of dibble dabbling around and wasting our time and someone else’s? Say you got paid more for less time, then you’d have more time for other things in your life, more time for pleasure. You know? So take this and apply it to your creative work ethic, be it art, science, etc. Let’s advance faster, break through the barriers and constraints we’ve put on ourselves. That is what I am constantly trying to do. It’s what drives me and what kills me at well. It’s what puts me to bed at night and what wakes me up in the middle of the night in a state of panic. I don’t believe it’s just me that works like this, I believe it’s a very universal feeling of an integral work ethic and creative drive. Does that answer or not answer your question, and does it really matter, because I have said something either way, you know?

What were you working on before you were attacked by television?

I was preparing for my first solo show at a major gallery here in Kansas City. It was a big deal. I was working only on graphite drawings. The show centered around the Tarot, and was a version of the tarot illustrated by myself where’d you see the actual drawings on one wall and then large versions of pieces and symbols of the drawings on the opposite wall. The observers were then asked to rearrange the symbols on the wall, thinking that they were curating drawings on the wall, but in actuality, they were drawing a tarot spread, large scale, on a wall in a gallery, somewhere in Kansas City. How cool is that? I love having some sort of experience or connectivity with the viewer, whether it be my ceramics, paintings, videos, drawings, clothing, or writing. You must always take the viewer into consideration in anything and everything. Even though people may not get it at first, they will and eventual do.

(part two)

Are art and science the same thing?

If I were to say that art and science are the same thing, then may be everything is the same, or one. Both take a certain neurotic mind to participate and delve into, but I don’t believe that in essence they are the same. Both can be very spiritual in their process, their results, and how they effect people, but still they are not the same thing. For me, art is habitual and science is the standard. I try not to veer too far away from science when I am working in my studio, but still, to calm my mind I have to forget about quantum physics and matter and anti matter and simultaneity, or I will go insane. Einstein still was spiritual in all of his findings, in all of his conceptual map making of theories, because in his findings, in his life experience, he saw perfection. Einstein was exposed to such symmetry and chaos and absolute amazement, that he knew that there must be a god, or creator of some sort, because you can’t make this all up, you know? Are artists just trying to simulate nature’s perfection, or are we part of the science? Both art and science try to make sense of the world, but I believe that art is far more reactionary than science is. In the story of the tarot, I believe art to be the Magician and science to the Hierophant, and human consciousness to be the Fool.


Do you feel psychedelic drugs are necessary for unlocking creative potential? Any time someone mentions artists using LSD etc., it makes me think of Jim Morrison. How would one, theoretically, avoid addiction and the destructive self-defeating cycle of dependence that time and time again has ultimately destroyed artists’ ability to continue their work and exist in society? Once you’re on mind-altering drugs, how do you avoid the slippery slope of harder substances and a disconnection from your drive to create?

I don’t think psychoactive drugs are necessary for unlocking one’s creative potential, no. I do know that I can’t speak for anyone else, but they did certainly, like Huxley or Rimbaud, unlock my doors of perception. I went through those doors, so I can’t go back. But I respect and admire my friends that haven’t touched drugs that seem to be able to push their minds further than anyone I know. I think the key to this mental locksmith, is to be able to think both objectively and subjectively for yourself. Critical thinking and asking integral questions, being able to use metaphor to articulate, are key to ascertaining creative potential.

Everyone is different, and drug use is a slippery slope to a life thrown down the toilet. I have had people very close to me battle drug and alcohol addiction, and I know the harm that comes along. I do not blame the drugs like a lot of people do. That’s like blaming the existence of junk food, fast food for America’s obesity problem. No one is force feeding these people, no one is making someone consume drugs, guns (for the most part) don’t release the triggers themselves, people do. I feel like I have been able to avoid addiction thus far, by, and this may sound odd, but always trying to keep a good relationship with my family. I am the product of everyone that came before me, my life in a way is a gift, a gift to me, and it is not mine to fuck around with, it belongs to all my ancestors. Now when you’re gripping the dirty ground with perhaps drool coming out of your mouth, may be you’re half naked and unable to move or articulate words, now that is just embarrassing. A good way to monitor yourself is to always imagine an arial view of yourself, do you feel ashamed for ingesting some drug that now makes you convulse on the floor like a maniac, or are you so far gone that you cannot even understand the notion of self reflection? You have gone too far then.

I think addiction stems from a lack of ability to cope with reality. If there are factors in your life that you are still dealing with and are unable to truly get over and accept them for what they are, DO NOT TURN TO DRUGS. But it is this lack of self reflection is what gets a lot of people involved with drugs in the first place. I am lucky to have experienced what I have and been able to walk out of the rabbit hole and see the light. I do not do drugs or drink alcohol. As I have experienced many alternative realities, I realize that your reality is whatever you make it to be. Why not, in the words of Axl Rose, use your illusion?

You mentioned a lot of artists and thinkers from the past who have influenced you. Who or what is influencing you right now?

Well, this is a tricky question you see, as everything is in the past. Right now I am typing the answer to your question, which means this is influencing or ruling my mind at this very moment. I am the collective whole of all that I have read, seen, experienced, touched, fantasized, eaten, resisted, and hoped for. All of that is now, this very instant. But in the last day I have really fixated on blankets, splitting atoms into smithereens, time travel, earrings, playgrounds, efficiency, David Koresh and Waco, the illuminati and celebrities (esp. hip hop), harvesting energy from human movement (i.e. autonomous energy sources), tone, and esp. equal treatment for all ages. This is something that I really have been thinking about a lot. I know we have to respect some certain physical and mental development issues with all ages, but I think about the care and concern we give to children. We talk to them like pets, and say that we will put them first as far as health care and education go so that they all have a fair chance in this world, and then what? Care and concern should not end at any age, and yes, you can argue that there are government programs put into place to help adults, and that yes, children need help to grow and mature, but I am talking a serious lack of consideration when it comes to helping adults grow and mature too. Some say that a person cannot change. Is this a declaration or a fact?


What is your impression of the fashion industry as a whole? Looking at the machine, what does it do?

I really don’t consider the fashion industry…ever, really. I do think that there is this tension within it. Like fashion has never garnered the respect or attention that it really deserves, so in a way it is elitist and also self defeating. It is Target and it is Gaultier at the same time. It is fake crocodile leather handbag with a watered down East African motif made in China for 4 dollars, and then resold in the United States for 158 dollars. It is so confused and inconsiderate and also a product of the human collective aesthetic. I am puzzled by the industry. I am puzzled by the fact that I know Anna Wintour’s name, and have some generalized idea of what she does for a living and the stereotype of who she is as a person. But what I really want to know and what I am truly interested in is how many seconds would it take for me to shove a piece of red velvet cake into her mouth and have her pinned to the ground in a wrestling match? This sounds crazy, but I can really envision this happening and it feels so good.


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