I recently got down to L.A. and happened upon an exciting show at Subliminal Projects, titled Vita E Morte, the latest creation from the collective powerhouse known as Cross My Heart Hope To Die. CMHHTD, which consists of Sean Bonner, Brevi, Andrew Kline (Strife) and DJ Muggs (Soul Assassins, Cypress Hill), was formed out of conversations about the excitement that comes from discovering new music tangibly. Back in the day, music was experienced through having a record, tape, or CD in one's hands, opening up the package and blasting it as you poured through the album art and personalized liner notes. Unfortunately, this kind of experience has been lost in this high speed, downloadable, digital age.
Words & Photos: John Felix Arnold
Vita E Morte (Latin for life from death) dives into the relationship of the discovery of music and art, and the depth of meaning that exists within. The collective hopes to bring a sense of renewal and freshness back into the relationship of art and music by exploring the physical, the virtual, and the experiential. As I wandered through the exhibition, I was very much immersed in a world where the sonic and the visual collided and conversed to create multiple ways of guiding one through the experience, allowing me to see life outside the gallery with new eyes. From the recordings of the CMHHTD's band, to the actual pieces installed in the gallery, and the exploration of cross over between the sonic and the visual elements totally reworked and explored with ground breaking methods, I was in for a treat. I was also fortunate enough to be there on a day when Andrew Kline was at the gallery and got a personal guided tour of the exhibition, as well as opened up a great conversation.
JFAIII: Tell me a bit about your background and who/what is CMHHTD, how exactly the collective came together and how you guys have evolved to operate and exist in the present.
Andrew: I was the catalyst that brought everyone together. I have worked with Sean, Muggs, and Brevi in different capacities and on different projects throughout the years… CMHHTD initially started as a music project, but quickly grew into something bigger. I think that is what is interesting and exciting about this project, it is constantly evolving and breaking new ground.
Sean: A few years ago we started casually talking about how everyone is doing the same thing over and over again and a lot of the excitement about doing new things has been lost, and the classification of art and why one set of activities might land you in an art gallery yet another set of similarly inspired activities would land you on a stage. We talked about context and division and those conversations morphed into what has become CMHHTD.
What sort of past projects on this scale or larger have you done?
Andrew: Music wise, Muggs and I have been involved in a number of projects throughout the years. I have played in a hardcore band called Strife over the last 20 plus years, and produced for a number of artists from different genres. Muggs’ resume covers work with Cypress Hill, Tricky, Ice Cube, Etc…
As far as the art side is concerned, Sean was the owner of Sixspace gallery in both Chicago and Los Angeles which represented such artists as Glen E. Friedman, Shepard Fairey, and Richard Coleman.
I used to own a retail space as well, and curated shows there with artists such as Alex Pardee, Marco Zamora, Eyeone, Mear, Patrick Martinez, and others.
Sean: Everyone in the band has had an eclectic mix of previous projects, as CMHHTD is still fairly new in the public eye I think most of our previous endeavors are all still bigger - but those are in the past and we’re working to build something new so who knows where that will lead at this point.
How through collaboration does CMHHTD realize such an incredibly extensive collective vision? Is it a fine tuned technical, perfectly mapped organism, is it an intuitive sort of madness that comes to light organically?
Sean: Everyone brings something different to the project, something they are incredible at and know inside and out. While there’s much shared interest and experience, there’s different expertise and that allows us to all contribute something we’re proud of and confident in and have those pieces snap together into something even better. There’s hardly any “toe stepping” so to speak. It would be silly to suggest that any creative endeavor is perfectly mapped out - we have shared goals and we trust each other to work towards those, but part of the magic is trusting what will happen and diving in head first.
Andrew: Like I said before, everything we do is continuously evolving. We had an initial idea for a motion activated installation in the gallery that, at the very last minute, we realized was not right for the gallery setting… This quickly evolved into the television installation that you see at the entrance of the gallery. I think everyone has trust in the other members that things will get done, and they will be done right.
The exhibition is a really incredible multi sensory experience and really spoke to me on a lot of intellectual, emotional, and even tactile/experiential levels. Can you please tell us what your personal motivations and intentions were for realizing such a complex exhibition with so many dots to connect and so many ways to have it be viewed, thought over, and felt?
Sean: This goes back to what I mentioned about context, this is the overlying theme throughout the exhibition that I hope people walk away thinking about - how context shapes perception and how a singular thing - be it a song, a photo, a sculpture, a band, etc can be, and appear to be different things when observed from different contexts, and how in truth those definitions are much more flexible than people might imagine. Just because it seems that something fits nicely in a single classification box doesn’t mean that it really does, it could mean it just looks that way from someones current angle. Personally, I like challenging commonly held positions and rethinking generally accepted theories, so I hope this exhibition encourages others to do a little of that.
The international street art audio box project which seems to have been inspired at root by your band to begin with is an integral aspect of the show. Tell us about how that project came to fruition and then informed that further work in the show.
Sean: The music boxes stemmed from the discussions about how people used to discover music to how they do now - not that one is better or worse, but that they are very different and previously having a gap between hearing about a band and actually hearing that band created some memory markers and some excitement that isn’t common today. We thought about how we might force people to have some wonder and curiosity about music again. And again, context - why does street art always end up being visually based - maybe it could be audio based as well.
Andrew: We really wanted to come up with a unique way to present our music to people that didn't seem like a marketing object… These music boxes came to life after long talks about music discovery… At the time, the technology did not exist, so we actually needed to create a circuit so that these boxes would function in the way that they do. For a year or so, the songs only lived on these boxes which made their way around the world to places like Los Angeles, New York, Vienna, Japan, France, Germany, etc.
Where were your favorite spots that held the audio street art boxes and why?
Sean: It’s hard to pick a favorite, any place with high traffic that resulted in people really experiencing the boxes with a group of others is always fascinating.
Andrew: I couldn’t pick a specific place, but it is interesting to see different people’s reaction to the box once they discover that it plays music. You tend to see one person discovering it at a time, and bystanders get curious as to why this person has their headphones plugged in to this random box, and then they all wait in line to take their turn.
We have seen people trying to google lyrics, or try to image search the logo to find out what music is playing on the boxes.
What was the impetus for the cross over of audio to visual and visual to audio filtering or processing within the abstract sound and audio works?
Sean: Context again, what separates one from the other - especially in 2014 when everything is a digital file at it’s source, it’s just 1s and 0s to your computer but some piece of software is saying “this data is a song” and “this data is a photo” so I thought about mixing those up and forcing the software to look at that data differently.
Being that you are actually working with machines and developing relationships them while creating this work, what sort of emotional and psychological states did you experience while immersing your self in a sense of "process" in the digital world as opposed to working with paint or hands on materials?
Andrew: I think that the way that we manipulated these photos digitally, we definitely had a lot more room for error and relied heavily upon randomness and chaos to get a result that we liked.
Sean: Well, for me anyway it’s very hands on. I’m soldering circuits and building boxes and designing things all day, so the art is very hands on to that extent. I have less direct involvement with the music at writing and creation stages but again this goes back to each of us bringing something unique and valuable to the group.
The photo abstractions are really beautiful and really dynamic. Did you have any favorite moments or pieces during the creation of the show that made you go "Hell Yes That's It!”?
Sean: Of course any artist has favorites but it’s like a parent, you don’t want to single out your children or rank them. I think the thing worth noting is that for every image that ended up on the gallery walls there are easily 50 that didn’t make it because the file just fell apart completely or the results were garbage. The ones that you see in the gallery were the “hell yes!” ones.
Andrew: I agree with Sean, although there were definitely things that turned out a lot better than I expected as well. I think there is a big difference between seeing an image on a computer screen to seeing a large framed 42” X 42” image on a gallery wall.
That being said, I do have artist proofs of “And I’ve Dealt With Fire” and “Someone Should Have Warned Me”.
How was working with Subliminal Projects? Looking at this years programming do you feel like your exhibition creates any specific conversations with other exhibitions that you would like to continue or make you see things in a new way?
Sean: Early on we thought that Subliminal would be a good fit because much of their art has a music connection on some level so while we’re doing something entirely out of left field, we hoped that the audience at Subliminal would be open to it - more so than a more traditional gallery might be. The other exhibitions this year bounce from heavy music influence to straight forward fine art so I think it fits and the conversation makes sense.
Andrew: Subliminal Projects has always been one of my favorite galleries in Los Angeles. Shepard and crew have been super supportive and helpful, and they were great to work with.
Lastly, what is next for CMHHTD?
Sean: In many ways this is just the start, we’ve been working on this idea for years and finally unveiling parts of it to the public here, but there’s many other aspects that we haven’t shown off yet and we’ve got more plans in motion. Very literally the album and another showing of the Vita E Morte work in a different city, different context are being planned, less literally this is just the start of a conversation we hope goes much deeper.
Vita E Morte runs through August 23rd.
Subliminal Projects is located at 1331 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026 http://sublimanlprojects.com
Intro Text, Interview, and Exhibition Photos by John Felix Arnold III http://felixthethirdrock.com
Photographs of the public music box street art project provided by CMHHTD