ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. This week, Berlin-based artist Labanna Babalon talks about mysterious emails, mind-expanding psychedelics, community, rejecting the monetization of the art world and new digital platforms, all of which resulted in her latest piece titled ANIMAL.
Honestly, I had a little existential crisis last week when asked if I wanted to contribute to ANIMAL’s Artist Notebook, mainly because of the focus on a finished piece. My thoughts are never on the commercial aspect of art. In fact, a lot of what inspires me is the decline of that world and birth of a new one. My work is not based on monetizing. Instead, I am rich with cultural currency. I have had many opportunities to get rich quick, but I’d rather not sell my soul to a hell on Earth soon to be alleviated. I have had a lot of strange, seemingly not-of-this-reality experiences that have concretely assured me that society is not all that it tells to be.
My actual last ‘finished piece’ was not mine alone. It was fueled by experiences and community.
Around the time of my seven day acid experience while living at Market Hotel in Brooklyn, prior to my 777 Babalon Ritual, I was getting strange emails from this dude in… Not broken English, it seemed straight up alien, like, from outer space.
At the time, there were tons of kids living there and I remember them all sitting around while I sent emails back and forth, in real time. These emails all got deleted from my gmail. (Creepy.)
When I looked him up, I learned that he was a self-proclaimed king of cashmere with alpaca farms all over the Middle East — obviously, a very rich man. What did he want with me? The weeks went by. There were a few emails back and forth, until he asked me to meet him on the 5th floor of Saks Fifth Avenue on 55th, in a cafe. We all were a little spooked. The air definitely got thicker. I looked this “cafe” up. It existed. I got a bunch of precious metal tinctures and did a protection ritual with my menstrual blood and semen of my lover/partner at the time, Sasha Desree (producer of “There’s No One Like Me”).
It was at the end of my acid week. I went to sleep late and, appropriately, missed my conference with the king of cashmere.
Photos: Miller Rodriguez
I saw my girl Angelina Dreem at a party a few weeks later and told her about the emails. She is a tall, strong-willed woman and was not scared of the situation and offered to go check out the cafe on the 5th floor on 5th Avenue number 55. As soon as she got to the block, she was followed by a one-eyed man all the way up to the 5th floor, where the “cafe” had fittingly become a real estate office. The man continued to follow her until she left the block. This experience made Angelina want to direct a video for me later.
The inspiration was from something that she read about Lady Gaga’s hotel maid finding a bathtub full of blood. Six months after my video came out with the Vice article, one of my metaphysical teachers commented that Lady Gaga was into Lady Balthazar, a turn of the century vampire who used to bathe in virgins’ blood and drink babies. When I looked it up on Google, all I could find was movies and Buffy the Vampire Slayer references. On the first day, the video got 40k hits, and a few day later, someone commented in Latin, ‘Thanks, now I have to go eat babies and bathe in virgins’ blood.” That wasn’t in the interview.
So when Marina asked me to write about a finished piece, this is what came up for me. I chatted with one of my besties Genevieve Bellevue via FB messenger for two hours about love and art and our mutual dilemmas and frustrations with the art world. I had decided after a week of deep thought that I wanted my finished piece to reflect the thoughts I was having about what my art was now. It is so fluid and so much part of my daily experiences with how to live a happy life and inspire that in other people. Gen and I relate in that sense to our artistic approach and have grown with the conversations we have had over the years. Simultaneously, I was learning code from Mary Bond who did a piece on Reddit which they said my work was an inspiration for. A main theme in it is the release of shame in sexuality. As you see from the example above, I’ve had experiences that make me sure footed in the idea that society is in for big changes, and I do not believe our progression can happen with such trivial shackles as shame in the female anatomy and sexuality.
The first one I made was from gifs I’d gathered the night before our coding session. Obviously, I’m into fantasy, especially fantasy based of strong female heroines kicking ass. Storm is amazing. I never really played video games, but I would play mortal combat at the bowling alley and beat the boys just by pressing all the buttons at one time as Jade. I’ve been watching Nikita, a tv series that reminded me of one of my other favorites, Alias. Even though I’m not a spy, I totally feel like I’m kicking ass everyday. Both heroines goals are to find the balance of good and evil and bring truth to the people. I can’t help but think my whistle blowing at times has held me back, but if you look at the bigger picture, I’m fighting for human equality. With every little step that everyone makes, we get closer. It makes me feel a hell of a lot better, and safer at that.
I had no idea coding was so easy.
This has been on my mind a lot lately, for the question was recently proposed in the feature length I just finished in Berlin called Desire Will Set You Free by Yony Leyser, starring Genesis P’Orridge, John Waters, Nina Hagen, Samantha Urbani, Dev Hynes, Peaches and Amber Benson and the icons from the gaycore Berlin scene. In my main scene, I did a performance in Gorlitzer Park where I covered my muses in oil and glitter while I sang a love ballad accapella from the bottom of my heart. It was mostly improv, but there was a part that was scripted with one of the actresses who was very confused as to what I was doing. My answer was not an artist, but a muse.
I grew up with two professional artist as parents. They always knew I was highly creative and they nurtured that in me. I always thought I wanted to be an artist. Now, I don’t want to be bought and sold in the same archaic system. My father always got really angry at me when I was making lots of YouTubes, not because of there content, because he thought I would have a hard time selling them.
By making everything for free, there is a barrier crossed. I can’t say what’s going to be on the other side, but I know more people are waking up to the fact that what they are fed is shit. That the real thing is out there now via the internet virtually killing a lot of the platforms that held serious klout before. Hence, the screen cap from Gen from the Playboy article. If you can’t beat them, join them. The entertainment industry has to change if it wants to continue to exist. I’ve quoted this quote so many times and I will again and again.
‘Do not shortchange the muse, it’s like faking a good meal which can not be done,’ – William Boroughs.
With that said, the pics in my “finished piece” are from photographer Anna Bloda. The rest went into a fancy model magazine. The photo in the piece, which was both of our favorites, was not chosen.
New Hive is a good example of what might be on the other side — a social media network where you can’t buy your likes and your limitations are very few. I’m excited to see more platforms like this.
My finished piece is in reality the constant discourse, through post-private messages, videos, and pictures all creating an amalgam of realities that the viewer can choose its course rather than being fed and told that what he or she is eating is good. The reason I included the story at the beginning is to show that whoever is pulling strings is watching. They want change too. The only thing that really opens doors is love, and my work will continue to be based in that. Every little thing helps.
This made me tear up. this is why I continue. This is why I shed my doubt that I’m on the right path.
LABANNA BABALON, ANIMAL (2014) – view it on New Hive
Previous Artist’s Notebook selects:
Artist’s Noteboo: Crispin Sterling
Artist’s Notebook: Monica Canilao
Artist’s Notebook: Ramsey Nasser
Artist’s Notebook: Am Schmidt
Artist’s Notebook: Rhett Jones
Artist’s Notebook: Brenna Murphy
Artist’s Notebook: Genevieve Belleveau
Artist’s Notebook: Saoirse Wall
Artist’s Notebook: Jesse Darling