An Interview with Joshua Byron & Chariot Birthday Wish on Queerness and Art

An Interview with Joshua Byron & Chariot Birthday Wish on Queerness and Art

By Joshua Byron & Chariot Birthday Wish

Editor’s Note: grammar and punctuation aesthetic have been largely preserved for authenticity and tone.

Joshua: We are chatting and checking in with each other on the 4th of July, a honeysuckled day of nostalgia, dogmatism, and fear. I recently began releasing a webseries Trans Monogamist with Alfredo Franco and Artless Media and Chariot Birthday Wish recently released his new book of poetry, hot pearl. 

J: How is the weather in Philadelphia- if that's where you are now; it's so hot here in New York. I was invited to a million things but part of me just wants to try and drink some iced coffee and lay down and watch a Derek Jarman movie or something. Perform that kind of tired queerness. 

I wanted to talk about your poetry, and your latest work, and also how your work maybe functions as haiku. I was reading Barthes on haiku recently who idolized haiku as a sort of perfect form. The perfect image, something that collapses time inward. And that makes me think of your work- a collapsed inward image. But also like, fun and bubbly. Effervescent. 

C: It’s hot in, sticky in philadelphia, i am currently home now. were in the humid thunderstorm loop here but i dont think a storm is going to break for another few days. im going to go smoke weed on mikayla’s roof later today, other then that i've been playing katamari and drinking ice water while drawing all day.

people mention haiku to me a lot, because i write small, few word poems, with a focus on natural imagery. I honestly don’t read much haiku, and wouldn’t site it as a direct source of inspiration, or say that ive studied the form. i do think my work resonates with a similar drive and spirit of haiku though, and i hold a dear reverence for the form.

i love that quote “the perfect image” and “something that collapses time inward” my intent of form for writing poems is absolutely trying to expand a space, a moment, an emotion, memory, as wide and deep as possible with as few words as i possibly can. i really focus a lot on creating complete and whole worlds inside my poems, but its subtle because they are such small poems. my work has a lot of play in it, i think my tone of voice always has an air of play to it. 

J: I think for me I think of the succinctness of your work, more so than scale. Sometimes your work even if it isn't about apocalypse, feels very tied to that, the event, the feeling, the fear, the expression of it and often I think your work has mechanical feelings in it, these references to the Matrix or like using human concepts in regards to natural things. I think a lot of some of your work that lists desires and those desires bend to human concepts, not natural ones. 

I think that the bubbling of your work feels like it could go on forever, like how do you decide to end a poem or even a collection? In hot pearl or hell ship or i love you, here's a gigantic worm? 

C: yes ! i think most of my work, comes from a place of constant consideration of apocalypse. And consideration of technology ! ive always been really inspired by and into sci-fi, cyberpunk ie: the matrix.  i love to reference technology for sure. interweaving technology into nature and natural images, one function of that for me is about desire. desire for connection, for access. i think about texting my friends from the middle of the woods, and the simultaneous understanding of the link to earth + self, emotionally and also physically! But I also do think that technology and mechanics are a part of nature, and “the natural world.”

humans are a part of nature and we created these things. there’s this Bjork quote where she says that “You can use pro tools and still be pagan”. I’m really into the idea of using technology as tools of divination and holy connection with nature. I imagine a scene; being in moss, it’s absolute bliss, and then the connection of texting, sharing an image of moss with a friend, sharing that moment through cellular towers, and then that sneaking sense of apocalypse like earth Is going to melt.

and knowing that those moments of sharing and experiencing the absolute magic and heavenly nature of is not going to be possible anymore because humans are melting earth. I’m trying to hold all of these goods things weighted with that, the frantic fear of losing something so special. Its very cyberpunk to me. and then yeah !!!! its driven by desire!  if i think of it now, a have a lot of poems that say “i want”i want so much... 

with books, I usually decide on a number of pages first its very straight forward. im like okay this book is going to be 20 pages or 100 pages. with poems, if i read it and i have my emotions and vision echoed back to me, then its done ! I try to make myself cry, and I am always trying to write what I think is the perfect poem. i do try to spend a collective hour editing each poem, but usually i just know when its done. Not to be obtuse. 

J: How do you think desire plays a role in the work that you do? 

Your work has such striking images - things I think are (I hate this word) but striking and original. I'm thinking of even the word "hell ship" for instance or "hot pearl," the fag poem, "superintendent of the golf course," "my flowering boyhouse," and the specificity of the "i want.”

The images feel free from societal cliches and expectations, like a weaving of a fantasy world. I don't know if I have a question, I mostly just wanted to say that. It seems just very sprung from your mind, very specific. It's not that there aren't poetic traditions that predate or intertwine with yours, but I think in some ways it feels very Greek (Sappho, perhaps?) in its directness, in its wink, in its boldness.

I also wanted to hear you speak on the fag poem, it feels so essential and tears me apart. 

C: i love to meditate on the feeling of desire, and feel desire. i also think that the reason i make art comes from a similar part in my emotional body as my desire. its an expression of that desire, as well as a manifestation of desire, i really long to create art and i love to make art about desire. its such a full and intricate emotion.

Recently I read a definition of “eros” as the opposite of “death wish” the antithesis of the call of the void, that eros is an absolute will to live and desire to experience. That’s the well of desire I channel my creativity through. which i think relates a lot to your mention of sappho. i read a lot of sappho, her voice and her form (specifically too how we just have fragments of her poems, and what that does to the form of her work) has something that i draw a lot of inspiration from. absolutely the way she, and other translations of greek text (ive been reading the iliad for 2 years).  

Chariot Birthday Wish

Chariot Birthday Wish

i do also 100% imagine all of my poetry to take place in a specific and complete realm, in a fantasy world. that idea, of creating a whole separate place, lexicon, and memeplex was one of my first visions and drives as a poet.

the fag poem: i also started it with wanting to write "a fag anthem" which is not usually how i write poems, with a specific thesis for the poem. its an ode to faggots, a faggot declaration, but one from a place of reclamation driven by pain. 

J: How do phones play a role in your life or your poetry? Your poems do include references to downloading pics of horses, or texting in the woods, or just texting or staring even. but i also wonder about the idea of writing on phones and what that means poetically and structurally. 

What is your relationship to social media and Instagram? it mystifies me! you have a following and i wonder how that feels and how that is tied up in art-making, glo worm, distribution, and if it matters to you or if you have any feelings of community or fracture over how the internet works?

In regards to the above, what are your thoughts on looks, or pulling looks? The politics, the aesthetics, the joys of looks? Are you pro look? Anti-look? 

C: its a little trick of mine to add a reference to a phone in a poem. i think that phones are so intimate. i have an intimate relationship to my phone, and theyre magically little devices. i try to capture that magic when referencing "downloading pictures of horses" or looking at pictures of birds on your phone. thats also tied to apocalypse though, sometimes im writing from a space of thinking about animal extinction, when certain animals are gone and but we still have access to photos of them on the archive of the internet. our phones being a connection to that archive. 

i love social media. i love connection ! im def in the camp of holding closer to the positives of social media, outside of my paranoia about facebook and the surveillance state and like, influencers, etc. i just want to share my art with people and reach people. it feels good to be connected with people who like my art and to be an artist. i can unpack that for hours though.

There are times when being seen, and watched by a following is overwhelming. I think there can be a tendency for people to view you just as the single dimension of what they see online. I def have an online persona, and have built an image, altho thats also complicated and confusing because that image and persona is not a lie, just a crystallization of parts of myself. but I don’t really concern myself too much with that anymore. People can see me how they want. I am highly protective of parts of myself and my life 

i love looks. i got into art as a kid because i wanted to be a fashion designer. as a transsexual gay faggot virgo born the week of beauty, aesthetics are very important to me ! in that, the play and fantasy of looks are important to me. i do believe that aesthetics are empty. especially in this year of 2019. and i think holding that in mind can create buoyancy for the play of looks, of pulling a look. its about fantasy and expression. i also find power in it. recently to combat my social anxiety, ill wear elf ears to non-costume events, as it subverts my paranoia of being stared at for being a fag freak. i like giving people a reason to stare at me, a fag freak. 

J: Tell me about your influences. Who gives you visions? Tell me about the knife? tell me about Keanu Reeves, the Matrix, and your celebrity icons?

C: Techno music gives me visions, the ocean gives me visions, the forest, the planets give me visions. Bjork gives me visions, Bruce Springsteen, Gregg Araki, Wong Kar Wei, Anohni, Greek mythology, Faggots and their Friends Between Revolutions, Kazuko Shiraishi, the color red, the color blue, Cocteau Twins, dream pop, pop music, Brokeback Mountain.

to me, the knife, is a perfect vision of pop +freakdom + communism + mysticism. Its apocalyptic gay communist dance music, deeply mystic lyrics. it's everything I search for in art in one project, I cannot believe the knife.

the Matrix, simply to me, is about following your destiny. to me it's about actualizing the godly calling, your godly calling, your vision for yourself. it's so virgo, bringing together the celestial and the earth. 

Keanu is just so beautiful; i think it's a trans guy thing. me and him have very similar birth charts. i love my playful relationship with celebrity icons. i feel tepid to "stan" people and celebrities. Icons are false, kill your idols, blah blah blah. but its a gay thing also to have icons, and its a part of that fantasy. 

J: Talk more about elf ears and giving people a reason to look at you?

C: id just rather give people something truly freaky to look out, rather than just the spectacle of my visibly trans body. its a transsexual thing for me for sure, or like informed by my medicalized trans body, modifying my body, fantasy cyborg, morphing my tool (my body)!

J: Are there any other body mods that really seem exciting? 

Did you have a spiritual upbringing or have any spiritual practices now?

What does healing the earth look like to you?

What does healing self and community look like to you?

C: i love getting pierced recently..also obviously tattoos, as a tattoo artist and someone who gets tattoos. if they knew how to dick surgery good i would do that. maybe someday theyll get it. im getting top surgery this year.

i was loosely raised catholic. i do candle magic and ritualistic intention setting.

full ! communist ! revolution now ! fully paid reparations ! returning stolen land back to its people ! and high tech cleaning of the oceans, permaculture, rebuilding of the rainforests. returning Nikola Tesla’s ideas and designs back to the people. 

community looks like responsibility. I’ve been thinking recently about how self healing happens with community healing, and when you put your time and heart into community, it heals your heart. I think we’re deep in a culture of individualistic healing, and it’s alienating. Workers of the world unite.

Chariot: what is your relationship to fantasy ? idle cosmopolitan, your first mini series, is full of ghosts, tarot readings, an alternate world. it felt like it was brushing against a suggestion of magic, also the way time + space is expressed in the series, it has a morphing quality. trans monogamist doesn't really carry those themes through, besides the astral projection class ( a little hint at the magic”  is there still fantasy in this second work ? 

J:  I think for me I don't see Idle Cosmopolitan as that fantastical; how hard is it to believe a world with spirits of some kind? Even if they aren't expressed the way they are expressed in fantasy novels or TV. The everydayness of magic. For me, fantasy is similar to queerness in that it means possibility. Hope. Optimism through pain. Most fantasy is born through quests and pain, the classic Arthurian tale.

I think for me, that's the root of it. I read so much fantasy when I was kid. I was obsessed with Arthurian lore, castles, Pokemon, Digimon, the Green Knight, all of it. I think that Trans Monogamist is fantastical in some ways, I've heard Broad City described as a fantastical NYC, as has SATC and almost any show about people in NYC. So in that sense, yeah. Where every corner has people to date. And of course, while I do exist as a NB Carrie Bradshaw in real life, that concept is a sort of fantasy of its own. 

C: What’s your relationship to technology and that aspect of film-making? 

J: Technology worries me. I read Carceral Capitalism last summer and felt worried, as always, by the rise of surveillance and predictive policing. I think I understand why some people chose paths of craft over content, but I also don't think it's always a strict binary.

But to be fair, at a certain point you can often only know so much about one or the other. You can focus on learning more and more about craft and technology and lenses or you can focus on plot, characters, drama... Or you can do both! I just don't know that many people who end up able to do both. It's a lot of effort and time and money just to do that learning. I do think there are cracks for the light in technology to come forth. It's how we met! But I find myself often pessimistic about it. But I don't want to come across as a technology grump either. I can be modern occasionally. 

C: do you think you are expressing a part your self through the main characters of your work? you act as both of them, i wonder what your relationship to self portrait is? if the self insert is significant or, how is that self insert significant to you? is it that no one else could properly portrays these characters?

J: I definitely think of my work as self-portraiture. I think part of it just that I'm making work about things that I go through, I'm making work DIY, and it can be easier (and harder) to self direct. It's also, of course, cheaper, than trying to find someone else and guide them to a place you feel deeply. I think for a while I felt uncomfortable about appearing in my own work but now I"m pretty numb to it. It just sort of feels like the kind of work that I'm making now. I think it felt required. If we're thinking of the path, we're thinking of flow, it just felt like the next step in making art.

Also, for me, it's important to make work specific and not too broad. I want to talk about what my queerness, what my life is like, and I don't want to speak for someone else at all.  

C: what is your process like for writing, and editing your video work? you're a workaholic right? can you talk about that process ? your relationship to that?

J: I am such a workaholic. I mean we are doing writing work on the 4th of July!! I have three projects in different stages right now. Video work is usually much more collaborative. There's a free fall element to not having all the control. It's scary and it's also how I push myself to not be a total control freak and to push myself to be a better artist. I do believe in community and collaboration I just also have an intense drive to sort of speed through things and make and create and there's certainly an element of capitalism that has infused me with needing to DO things. It's not my best quality!

But it also is a strength. I like to create! And sometimes that urge is so strong that sometimes I do need to do things alone. I think it's important to balance collaborative work with solo work, you need outlets! So sometimes I write alone, sometimes I don't. My video work often involves at least 16 people in the cast. And Trans Monogamist was all about co writing and co starring with Alfredo Franco and having Artless Media being such a big guiding and production force. 

C: What’s your relationship to tropes and pop? 

J: I think I love tropes, astrology, SATC quizzes, all of those kinds of things. I think the boxes we fit in or don't fit in both do and don't speak about our personhood. Sometimes we put too much stock into them, sometimes too little.

Queer tropes of course are such a fundamental part of online queer culture and also can be so toxic but also very healing! I think the way queer culture fractures and floats online definitely influences my work, but I try to engage playfully. There are things in queer online culture I feel serious about- in terms of supporting funds that support black trans woman or fundraisers for surgeries. But in terms of other queer iconographies and categories I try to just absorb and play. I think little of my online presence has to do with replicating those memes or ideas.

Joshua Byron

Joshua Byron

If anything it's about crafting my own identity that picks apart at random things like Carrie, an occasional look. Trans Monogamist definitely skates around and jokes a lot about types of gays while also recognizing that RIver is their own type of gay and while River jokes about hating gay graphic designers or art gays, River is an art gay. It's just that claiming identity feels scary to River, so they sort of dash over or around it and try and just be a person. Someone described TM as a show that tries hard to categorize people.

I don't know how I fit. I'm an art gay I guess. Nonbinary sometimes seems to be ascribed its own internet aesthetic but I don't know how i fit in that or don't. If anything I think there are certain binaries of queerness that I do identify on.

C: What trope am I?

J: You're definitely an alt-art gay as well, but on a different side of things? There's def a type of gay that does tattoos, is trans, loves communism, and cowboy imagery. 

C: right, what you said also got me thinking about tropes as language, theyre identifying words, and that shapes our understandings of ourselves and our experiences. and there is so much play i think, in queer culture between collective experience and personal experience. 

J: I think I worry a bit about the ways we seem to gravitate towards locks and keys as ways of conceptualizing identity. And yet, I do that! So who am I to say that? I think it's best to let everyone feel their identity the way they feel it, even if that's not how I feel it. Right? What does that hurt/what does it heal? It certainly heals someone else and probably doesn't hurt me, excluding hatred, of course. Plus, sometimes someone's experience or a collective's experience help us- we say that's me! or that's definitely not me! 

C: can you say more about territory? how does pop, or mass culture, bring us into territory? 

J: What's the difference between populist and popular? Is there one? Can something that's populist be destructive, can it be healing? Is liking what the people like somehow revolutionary or is it bad? Are we as a people healing bending towards justice or not? It's a tricky counter situation. Plenty of things we probably think are good are considered bad, and vice versa. so sometimes seems revolutionary and sometimes doesn't.

But it does remind me of the way Bergman is against symbolism-reading in his work, Susan Sontag's against interpretation, Patti Smith's writing about not trying to read a message into literature. I'm not sure i wholly agree, but the idea of the sign as uninterpretable or as a mirror is interesting. Of course these are also mostly people with a romantic idea of art and plenty of people believe in interpreting art and for good reason. Works can be about race, class, gender, etc., and also have images that can't be broken down. It can be both.

Joshua Byron is a nonbinary storyteller based in Brooklyn. Their work includes the webseries Trans Monogamist co-created with Alfredo Franco and Artless Media, Idle Cosmopolitan with Glo Worm Press, as well as the zine Sincere Hate. Previously they have written dating columns and lyrical essays for Bushwick Daily, the Body Is Not An Apology, Yes Poetry, and more. Their films have been screened at Sarah Lawrence College, the Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival, Secret Project Robot, and more. They love Ursula K LeGuin, rose soap, and lots of coffee.

chariot wish is an artist and angel living in philadelphia. theyve seen the matrix 28 times in 2 years and love horses.