1994 was a pivotal year: The art and music community on the East Coast was rocking and filmmakers Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley made a film called Half-Cocked, which featured many band people including Rodan, Slint, Freakwater and the Grifters. Now they have curated, along with Tony Kapel, a new art show called Shooting Blanks: The Art of Half-Cocked, opening Nov. 29 the Seven Seas Motel during Art Basel Miami that pulls together art, photography and ephemera related to the film and the broader community. Some call it nostalgia; others call it historic documentation. We spoke to Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley about their work and the exhibition. Photographs by Michael Galinsky
Chickfactor: How did the art show “Shooting Blanks: The Art of Half-Cocked” come about?
Michael Galinsky: About this time last year Tony asked me to be on his radio show that airs in Miami and online. He wanted to discuss Half-Cocked and my mall photos. We had a great conversation, and he also had several other people involved in the film on the show in the following weeks. Part of our discussion had to do with his surprise that the film wasn’t more widely known, so it was his idea to build an event around it during Art Basel. He suggested showing my photos and the film. Since Half-Cocked was such a collaborative project, and everyone involved with the making of the film is an artist we decided to make it more of a celebration of the kind of creativity that the film was meant to document. We also wanted to loop in others who documented that world, and people like Theresa Kereakes who helped inspire that kind of documentation.
CF: Who is Tony Kapel and how is he involved?
Suki Hawley: Tony is a musician/artist who does curation and puts out records and cassettes. This made it a very easy collaborative effort. The other day he mentioned that he started telling everyone about this event right after we decided to do it, but that no one really believed we’d pull it off. I laughed when he said this because this was part of the secret of getting Half-Cocked made. I kind of knew that if you told people you were doing something you kind of had to do it. At the very least it puts a fire under your ass.
CF: Please describe Half-Cocked the film.
MG: Suki was in graduate film school and was frustrated and annoyed because it wasn’t nearly as useful as her undergraduate program had been. I was a photographer who wanted to make films. We met at her roommate Cynthia’s birthday party, and shortly after, she started to book a tour for Cynthia’s band Ruby Falls, and she used all of the contacts I’d developed in booking Sleepyhead’s first tours. So that summer, she went on the same route that we often took and met many of the people we knew. That summer she also shot listed the film Party Girl because she was the director’s assistant and the director came from theater. So, she realized she kind of knew enough to make a film. We understood that it’s best to write what you know, and since we knew all of these amazing musicians in the South, we wrote about that. We did a lot of brainstorming with our roommates Cynthia Nelson and Steve Thornton respectively and then Suki and I would write for days at a time. We got a rough script together in a month. I sent it to my dad, who panned it. “Where the fuck’s the conflict?” he scrawled on the title page. We made another pass and sent it to everyone we hoped to have in it. Jon Cook had ideas for a crazy subplot that involved murdering a pizza delivery guy. It kind of exploded what was there. I mentioned this to Sean Meadows the other day, who was also in the movie, saying there wasn’t a way to incorporate it. He asked why not? I guess he was right, we could have done that. However, we really wanted to make something that could get seen. Even in my band we weren’t exploding the boundaries of expectation, just gently pushing them a bit. I loved work that exploded them, but it wasn’t my impulse to do so.
SH: Half-Cocked is about a bunch of kids who steal a van full of gear and pretend to be a band in order to stay out on the road. The stakes are not as high as Some Like it Hot, but it does borrow some of that kind of slapstick at times. The other inspiration was teen riot films like Over the Edge and Suburbia. There were a lot of other more serious film influences as well; The Last Picture Show and Stranger than Paradise come to mind. The idea was to write a skeleton script and have everyone fill in their roles. We wanted to document the world we were a part of without making a “documentary.”
CF: Who are the artists involved with the show? Tell us about a few pieces in it.
MG: We tried to be as inclusive as possible, both directly inviting people and making it known that we wanted people to contribute. We focused on the creative community in Louisville and Chattanooga, where Rodan and Boondoggle were from; bands we met on our first tours. However, we also pulled in people like Ron Liberti, from bands like Pipe, Small 23, and Clok Lock—as well as a brilliant poster artist. We have videos from [the late] Letha Rodman (from Ruby Falls), her sitcom Apartment 6, as well as a few of her collages, and a short film we made about her work. She was a huge supporter of all of our efforts. We will also be showing a film made by Ian Svenonius and Alexandra Cabral, The Lost Record. Ian brought a great deal of wit and panache to Half-Cocked as the owner of the van that gets stolen. We have photos from Pat Graham, Theresa Kereakes, Allison Wolfe and others. We have just a growing body of art and documentation and hope to take the show on the road to other locations, and maybe make some kind of book.
CF: We’ve talked a lot about community and documentation. Are those central themes here? What else were you hoping to achieve by wrangling these artists together?
MG: The most exciting thing to come from this effort is a short film that Suki cut from Andrew Bordwin’s video footage of the Ruby Falls tour. I’d never seen this stuff and it’s really funny because there’s one section where Ruby Falls has their show in Chattanooga canceled and they find out in John Moses’ record shop. Almost the same scene takes place in the film and I had no idea that it had happened on their tour. So, in the short we cut in several scenes from the film that mirror what’s going in their footage. It adds so much to the idea of documentation. There’s a performative aspect to Half-Cocked that’s different in the color video footage. Together, the short video and the film capture something so much deeper than the individual pieces do.
SH: There’s not much wrangling going on. Everything has fallen together pretty organically. Not everyone could get their shit together to send stuff, and a lot of people don’t have much of their older stuff. However, everyone is still involved in making art in some way. I think it’s all very inspiring to look at and sit with. It’s like mini museum show and hopefully the beginning of a much larger project.
CF: Michael, when did you start taking photographs?
MG: I started making pictures in high school in a photo class. I took to it like a duck to developer bath. Really, I was the only one in the class who was obsessed right off the bat. I spent many a lunch hour in the darkroom discovering the magic of images forming in the developer tray.
CF: What was your first camera?
MG: My first, and really my only 35 mm SLR camera was a Nikon FG 20 with a shit sigma 3.5 lens. I ran that thing into the ground. The lens was kind of soft, but that gave the work something of a distinctive slightly out-of-focus look, LOL.
CF: Tell us about some of the books you’ve published.
MG: My first book was Scraps, and it was put out by David Simkins on his Sugar Free Records label. He was a music fan I met in Chicago I think and when he moved to NY he offered to put out a book. I had another book that is still not published, of my early music and tour photos. Scraps is a reference to what was left after I made that book, but it’s also about the scrappiness of the underground DIY world. After that I made a couple of books of my mall work. All the books are out-of-print, but I want to make some new ones. I want to make a book that combines Scraps with the unpublished one Lost. I want to make another one largely based on what I have pulled together for this show. I also want to get to work on the color stuff I shot after 1995 when I got a point-and-shoot camera.
CF: How many films have you made together?
SH: Michael and I have made nine feature films and countless shorts (many of which will be playing in the gallery). We have three or four long-term doc projects in various states of disrepair.
CF: What are some of the biggest challenges facing creative artists these days?
MG: There is just a veritable flood of content of all types. I can see how overwhelming it is for my daughter. Everyone is competing for our eyes and ears and so much of that work is overly slick and produced, even the stuff that’s meant to be messy and fucked up. No one wants to pay for creativity or “content.” It’s a shit show.
CF: How would you describe the Half-Cocked era compared with 2021?
MG: What we wanted to document in Half-Cocked was a world that was unconcerned with the expectations of the larger world. It wanted to be separate and disconnected. Now that’s happening in a million different ways in small groups—but also wildly connected through social media, and with so much intention. I’m glad we got to do what we did then.
CF: Half-Cocked came out around the time the internet truly took over our lives. What was better before personal technology changed everything?
Everything. And nothing.
CF: Explain what the Soundwave Art app is and how it will be used in the show.
SH: Soundwave basically turns each image into a QR code. So when you point your phone it can bring up whatever reference we want. It makes the show so much more interactive. Michael has a lot of spoken word and music that goes with his photos. It just makes the whole thing much more interactive. We can link to videos by band, or sound pieces etc. It adds a great deal.
CF: What are your future plans?
MG: I really want to tour with the film again so that we can see the world but also celebrate the art that went into it. So many of the acts are still making work, and hopefully this will help them get more attention
SH: me too!
Watch the trailer or rent the movie here.
Shooting Blanks : The Art of Half-Cocked will feature work by the filmmakers Suki Hawley & Michael Galinsky (RUMUR), as well as past and current work from the cast, crew and artists connected to the scene documented in the film:
Akeo Ihara / Allison Wolfe / Amy Davis / Andrew Bordwin / Barbara Johnson / Brian Lynch / Bob Fay / Cynthia Nelson / Catherine Irwin / David Pajo / Erin Smith / Gail O’Hara / Greg King / Ian Svenonius /Janet Beveridge Bean / Jason Noble / Jon Brumit / Jon Moritsugu / Jon Moses / Kevin Corrigan / Leslie Gomez-Gonzalez / Letha Rodman Melchior / Luis Collazos / Jeff Mueller / Jennifer Rogers-Anderson / Maitejosune Urrechaga / Michael Galinsky / Ron Liberti / Pat Graham / Sean Meadows / Suki Hawley /Tara Jane O’Neil / Tara Key / Theresa Kereakes / Tim Furnish / Tim Foljahn / Thom Snively
Half-Cocked is a 1995 film that documented the DIY underground music scene in and around Louisville, Kentucky, in the early ’90s. It was a vibrant, creative community that had a powerful impact on musicians around the world. This show will celebrate the art and the artists associated with that scene, then and now.
The exhibition will include screenings of Half-Cocked, other Rumur films, and a slideshow + Q&A on Galinsky’s photo book Decline of Mall Civilization. In 1995, the Half-Cocked soundtrack was released on Matador Records. The cast included members of the bands Rodan, The Sonora Pine, June of 44, Ruby Falls, LungFish, Slint, Nation of Ulysses, Shipping News, Boondoggle, The Grifters, Sleepyhead, Freakwater and Crain.
Tuesday, November 30 – Saturday, Dec 4 / 11 am — 6 pm
Sunday, Dec 5 / 11 am — 5 pm
IN THE COMMON SPACE
SATURDAY Dec. 4, 2021
The Decline of Mall Civilization
Book slide show and Q&A
with Michael Galinsky
Film Screening and Q&A
with Suki Hawley & Michael Galinsky
8PM Live Music
Pocket of Lollipops