I met with an old friend of the blog, JJ Brine, last night at his Satanic gallery on the Lower East Side. Thankfully, it was a warmish evening, otherwise the busted picture window would have made for a very drafty Vector Gallery. Instead, it imbued the place with a different sort of vibe, distinct from when we last visited– something JJ also acknowledged– the sounds of the street became part of the experience. I no longer had to guess that people outside were talking about the strange happenings going on inside. Gaggles of teenagers intermittently giggled and gasped, pointing at a flower-crowned JJ and the eerie, reflective and neon decor, all visual terrorism.
The previous night a burglar had broken the front window, stepped inside the gallery and absconded with a piece of art. “I guess someone wanted to express themselves by throwing something through the window– taking the neon Tumblr sign might have been an incentive,” JJ sighed. “I felt something brewing.”
He admits he’s not sure who could have done this. “But I think that will become clearer,” he said.
But in spite of this act of vandalism, JJ was in excellent spirits. He welcomed in curious 20-somethings who looked up, down, and around, mouths agape in wonder. He thanked them for stopping by. At one point during our conversation an exceedingly normal middle aged woman knelt down to get closer to the cracked glass. “We’re really sad to see you go!” she shouted and timidly waited for a response. JJ quietly thanked her as well.
All of these goodbyes hung over us like a sad cloud. This week, JJ announced via his Vector blog that he’s packing up his relics, Charles Manson and Condoleeza Rice art, and closing his gallery. “Eye will go on to open VECTOR gallery in Los Angeles,” he writes. “But the City of New York must know that Eye leave this parting gift : To you NYC Eye present the advent of an irreversible decline into a shadow of all of the glories that you carry as a matter of pride. ‘New York City’ will be a metaphor for something once great that has since died.”
By this time tomorrow JJ will be on a plane to Vanuatu– a small island republic in the South Pacific, if you’ve never been– where he says he’ll be staying for two weeks, entering what he calls “irreversible decline mode.”
“I was chanting for hours, trying to arrive at some destination, because I knew I needed to go somewhere,” he recalled. “When I came to Vanuatu, it just stuck and there were no more questions.”
Life on the island will be very different for JJ, even though it’s a temporary arrangement. “Without electricity, I may not have neon signs,” he said. “But I can still generate the same kind of currents. I’m really interested in just engaging all that is there that wants to be engaged with.”
JJ will also disconnect from the internet– an integral part of the post-human experiment– and be completely isolated, though he says “no more isolated than I am here.” But the future beyond these next few weeks is uncertain. The lease for the Lower East Side gallery space however, ends this summer. “It will just sort of sit here and interact,” JJ said of what will happen until then. “I haven’t really heard any radical proposals for what else might be done with it.”
You might be able to catch JJ at Vector Gallery today, if he feels like going. But New York will have just one last piece of JJ to hold onto until the end of April at Silent Barn– an installation by the artist that opens as soon as he boards his flight. “I’m installing a prescription for the end of the world,” he explained of the installation.”It’s a prescription that determines something and reflects it at the same time. That’s one of the laws of reality that I’m testing and experiencing and verifying.”
While the VICE article and others interpret JJ’s leaving as a sign that New York City is declining further and further into mall-ish banality, which might be true, what the artist told us is a little more complex and, above all, murky. “I’m not feeling like speaking in absolutes,” he said. “I’m not uncertain, but I’m feeling more certain of things if I say: maybe.”
Though JJ he is indeed planning to open a Vector Gallery in LA, things are still up in the air. “I don’t think anything is for sure. But I can say that, currently, that is my plan of action. I’m totally open to being deviated and open to anything intervening,” he said.
A remarkably different JJ presented himself at this meeting. He looked happy, bright-cheeked and dare I say… optimistic. Maybe his impending trip has something to do with it, or perhaps vice versa. Above all, he barely mentioned Lucifer, Satan, the devil, and of that until the very end up our conversation. And only until I prompted him. In fact, he mentioned God well before he mentioned the Dark Lord.
“I’m realizing that it’s potentially very distracting,” he said. “I think it’s best understood by me being Satan and it not being important besides from me being that.”
JJ has changed and his philosophy has with it. “Change is the adversary of the status quo, until it’s absorbed into the status quo,” he said. “I wonder why there is this notion that change is not something that would be part of a system, that there would be a fixed way of understanding it. Everything is changing as a matter of its existence, that’s what it depends on.”
Change then, is exactly what JJ found he needed– hence the move to LA. But the most striking split with the past is that JJ isn’t taking souls anymore. While visitors stepped gingerly around the art work and piles of objects, he assured them they could feel free to step into the back room without having to forfeit their souls. “Maybe it was suddenly time to realize that I had come to another stage in the project and that I was more interested in answering the question as to whether or not I believed in such a thing as a soul,” he explained. “And maybe I was more concerned with acting on that answer.”
But why LA? I asked this obvious questions first. Does moving there have anything to do with the Charles Manson connection? I wondered. “Oh Charlie?” he asked. “I’m not really thinking in those terms any more, but sure somehow I guess that’s some part of it.”
This sweeping dismissal of “Charlie” confounded me. Well, did the move have something to do with Amanda Bynes? After all the tabloids have been all over this one. I once even got a call from a gossip columnist asking me to spill the beans on JJ and whether or not I thought he was “dangerous.”
“She and I have a great time together, that’s for sure,” JJ said. “I certainly wouldn’t mind being closer to her.”
But that wasn’t quite it either. Understandably JJ shied away from talking about his celebrity pal and lieu of speaking on his own terms. “Maybe it’s the sun, maybe having spent a little bit of time there and enjoying it, and maybe it feels a little bit like the Middle East,” he said. (Years ago, JJ lived in Beirut, a place he found fascinating.) “In LA people are willing to talk to themselves, to admit they are still reaching a conclusion. I think here it’s very frowned upon to feel anything is still resolving itself.”
And essentially, that’s it. JJ said he’s responding to what he sees as New York City’s shortcomings, or more accurately, the city’s crisis. “I think if it’s too driven by the idea there is no other option but it, it doesn’t serve it well. I don’t think it’s serving me well– that notion that hangs in the air, that this is the only place to be. I don’t want to internalize that. I’m not internalizing that, I’m rejecting it, in fact, that this is the only place where reality has a purpose or it’s the best place to realize all of one’s potential or the potential of a given created culture or religion or idea,” he explained. “I’m not sure that I want to be in a place that feels it is second-to-none in every category.”
JJ has been to known to speak in riddles, but this is maybe the clearest I’d ever heard him. Something about this city being “the hegemony without alternative” made a lot of sense to me. “I hear that cited as a reason for staying, that there really is no other option, that there’s not viable alternative, and I dispute that,” he said.
What’s really driving JJ up the wall though, is the inability of New Yorkers to live in the present moment.
“This is a city that is suffocatingly aware of its history and it’s always prizing a past that is unattainable. Especially here there is not moment that is less authentic than the present moment,” he explained. “There’s always some shortcoming measured against this storied past that can’t be accessed, that just disappeared, or disappeared two decades ago. There’s always some reason to feel that this is not the most important time. I reject that, I feel this is the most important time.”
As an artist, JJ says he doesn’t want to live in a place where “all innovation is thwarted.”
“This now is a very consequential time and I want to be in a place where that is an embedded awareness, or at least a place where I can easily operate on that awareness,” he said. “New York is suffering from this notion of glory days that are choking it, prohibiting it from growth. Because anything that would come would pale in comparison to that storied tradition, so it thwarts all innovation here.”
The most depressing part is that JJ’s frustrations may have stemmed from the general reaction toward his gallery. “I don’t think of Vector as being particularly radical,” he said. “And the notion of it being seen as radical is almost troubling, because it feels like the most normal kind of, sort of intrinsic place.”
Suddenly, I felt a pang of deep sadness. “I’ll just continue doing this, but in another place,” JJ assured me.
“I think people give extant realities too much credit for how they are and not thinking they can change them. I’m not saying I’m not open to staying, but no one is trying to intervene in any way or arrange for such way that it might be more agreeable to me to stay,” he said.
But everything, even JJ’s departure is part of his work. “Maybe it’s performance art in so far as I’m living it. Maybe I don’t know why people would make the distinction between art and their every day lives. But maybe I know why and it’s my art project to dissolve that. Maybe that’s part of the point.”
Note: JJ has requested that we add his closing thoughts, “All of this is an advertisement for the end of the world.”