Evil Monito magazine: Volume 04, Number 19, Summer 2004.
Interview by Candice Kortkamp :: Images courtesy of Spy Girl

You don’t ask an artist who has a self proclaimed “problem with reality” to explain herself. Especially if she has left her comfortable lifestyle in the abundant U.S. of A. to start over halfway across the world. Don’t even bother asking for her real name. She goes by Spy, short for Spygirl, short for Super Secret Spygirl – a nickname acquired in highschool – and that’s final.

Spy’s baby is the Bedroom Gallery, a conceptual art space that opened its doors over a year ago to Prague’s burgeoning independent art scene. Within this cultural hub, Spy has found a way to pursue her creative drive for collecting trash and painting monkeys while providing a much needed space for modern artists enveloped in the folk tradition of the Czech Republic. 

Evil Monito: Tell us where you grew up and what travels have led you where you are today.

Spy Girl: I’m still growing up. Right now I’m growing up in Prague, but before that I was in Oakland, California, and before that, New york city. I’ll
always love New York, but Oakland is definitely the place I call home. I lived there for ten years, and despite the lead problem and medical waste
incinerator down the street, eight years were spent in the same live/work space at the Dutchboy paint factory. it was an amazing and prolific time. 

EM: What were the circumstances and events in your life that led you to open you’re the Bedroom Galllery?

SG: When the twin towers went down I kinda lost my mind and took an impulsive trip to Prague, inspired by the Czech film “Daisies.” I was thrilled
by Prague, which lead to my optimistic lunacy. I have a problem with reality. I just decided my love for Oakland and the Dutchboy was so strong
that I needed to leave on top. Prague just was the first place that thrilled me. The events leading to Prague were like a five-year-old kid chasing a
big balloon down the street. The gallery happened because it was a life long dream.

EM: What challenges have you faced with running the gallery?

SG: Jeezus. Well having no money whatsoever is always a challenge. Seriously, my struggle to keep this thing going has been so extremely
absurd. I spent every penny of what I had, and now each month is some adventure to make rent. I swear I feel like Indiana Jones trying to raise $600 a month. I have to travel distances, avoid the mafia, and deal with the dark underbelly of the city. I was DJ-ing at this club and my boss would pressure me to sleep with him constantly and then threaten my job “jokingly.” Haha, good one...until i got fired. And my boss was American. Each month is something different: I kicked a man in the crotch for $40, I worked as a bartender for $1.35 an hour (and was pressured to sleep with my boss’s friend), I made a music video for a Czech trip-hop band, I
played an “artist” in a commercial for Lucky Strikes, I sold t-shirts in Berlin... it goes on and on. Sometimes my friends have benefits for me. Willis Stork at the 40th Street Warehouse has been saving my ass. My friends have all given me money. Right now, I have four days to make the last $60 for rent. Tomorrow I’m going to old town square with a sandwich-board on the dog that says “Prague art for sale.” I have to be very quiet and pretend to be mute so they’ll think i’m Czech.

EM: What kind of response did you get in Prague after opening the gallery?

SG: Alot of interest when we opened. People were confused because I wasn’t selling anything. They thought I was a drug dealer until I began posting newspaper articles about the gallery. Now they just think I’m weird. People look in the windows constantly, however they aren’t breaking down the door yet, ha. No, there is a strong interest in what we are doing. 

EM: What is the art scene in Prague like?

SG: People are doing things. It’s good. There is alot of performance stuff, which can be good or bad. I’ve seen both. There is a strong tradition of craft here, so it is always exciting to see this combined with modern ideas in physical form. Lots of street art. I have met a few incredibly talented Czech people in Prague. Things are happening here. 

EM:How important was the decision of location for you?

SG: I had considered California, but there are so many galleries showing, and so few people actually looking. My gallery’s home needed to be a place where time doesn’t equal money. What I’m doing is going to take a while. The gallery’s mission is to transcend conventional language by communicating through art, curating exhibitions intended to be read like sentences. Prague, as a cultural crossroad, is fertile ground for this type universal language. 

EM: How do local visitors to the gallery differ from international visitors?

SG: International visitors always talk about how cheap everything is. Local visitors usually just stand in the doorway and look. 

EM: Why did you choose to name it The Bedroom Gallery?

SG: I am always working in my home. It’s like... “painting in the kitchen, making films in the bathroom...” the Bedroom Gallery.

EM: Tell us about a favorite piece or installation that has been shown in the gallery.

SG: "The Junk in My Trunk" was my favorite show because it was my first solo show. The exhibition was a self portrait without my literal image. I showed my banana paintings, a collection of journals, an old punk t-shirt of mine, and a chair made of wood, red silk and lamb’s skin. the chair was inspired by a quote from Jean Cocteau about re-stuffing the chair where the soul sits. I have two favorite pieces, and both were in the "Oakland California Dreamin" show. one is a small gauche head painting by Barry Magee, and the second is a Polaroid photo of my friend Hoyt. 

EM: Why did this piece have particular meaning to you?

SG: Because he is crazy looking and naked and in bed with two girls who are asleep, and I stole it off the wall of my friends bathroom. I love this picture. I held on to it for 2 years, but during my last trip to Oakland in January, (laugh) I had a friend slip the picture back into my friend’s bathroom. 

EM: What do you look for when deciding who to feature next?

SG: Heavy concept. I want people who have weight in what they are saying. I’m not into image, I want meaning. And talkers can just back off and quit wasting my time. I’m looking for the real deal. I met this wonderful folk art artist named Ismael. He gave me a simple painting of a clock but all the numbers were mixed up. Innocent and deeply insightful.

EM: What influences you most when working on your own art?

SG: Mostly whatever great trash i find. Last night i found some old Czech books by the recycling. I found tons of pictures of the pope and stayed up all night making collages. That pope gets around. I was cracking up all alone looking at these collages. In general, I was influenced by the nation of Ulysses, the Black Panthers, Cinema of Transgression and Dada. 

EM: What do all the bananas and monkeys symbolize?

SG: The bananas symbolize desires and attainable goals, and the monkey is my alter ego. I really relate to an animal’s innate responsibility to act on impulse. They don’t worry about falling from the tree when jumping around on it’s branches. I live like this (but I’m all busted up ’cause I fall out of the tree all the time). I get frustrated or overwhelmed by human complexities and I just re-contextualize the issue into my monkey world to simplify it. when my marriage broke up, I painted monkeys to remind myself of basic survival, eat, sleep, shit. When the violence freaks me out, I see the power struggle of the alpha male. The monkey lifestyle is for me.

EM: How did get involved with doing film?

SG: I make super 8 short films and music videos. In 2000, I made a video for Quasimoto that was really popular. The Sundance channel’s Sonic Cinema showed some of my stuff. 

EM: Tell us about the documentary you worked on.

SG: It’s called Hip Hop Camp and is about the first hip hop festival in eastern Europe which happened to take place during the biggest flood in 200 years. It was so much fun to make. I filmed it over the summer of 2002, half super 8 and half mini dv. A Czech artist name Sifon did the music. MTV Poland wants to screen it.

EM: What are you currently working on?

SG:The show at the gallery now is called One Man Army and is an exhibition of individual struggles with work by Noha Lyon, Mad, Ismael Cosme, and Me. 

VIDEO: Click here to see Hip Hop Kemp (doc) //<---coming soon//


Copyright 2004 Evil Monito; Image credit Spy Girl