Having moved to New York in the early 1980s to pursue her visual art career, Kim Gordon fell into playing music off the back of downtown Manhattan’s no wave scene and its collapse. Her first musical performance was in an exhibition of the artist Dan Graham, who had asked her to perform as part of an all-girl band, which she said afterwards had been like a “high-altitude ride.” Soon after, Sonic Youth was formed and now we have Girl in a Band; the memoir of the band, Kim’s artwork, relationships, growing up and the cities that framed it all. We spoke to Kim earlier this week about umbrella terms, suburbia and not being boring.
As much as the book is clearly about growing up, your relationships and your work it also feels like a sort of a love letter to the cities you were living in at particular times. That’s a really interesting way of framing it, can you expand upon how that came about?
Well I was just trying to figure out how to not write about myself, and it seemed more interesting to make it like a portrait of LA in the 1960s and 70s and New York in the 1980s and 1990s.
Design Office is the name that encompasses your visual work, writing and music, could you expand upon its function?
It started in the early 1980s, in a way it’s kind of like an umbrella term to put everything under. I guess I see my work as like a continuum, even though the way I approach art making is more conceptual or cerebral than music, which tends to be more intuitive.
As much as they are clearly different forms of expression you can see your artistic influences coming through in the music, lyrically but also in terms of cover artwork and references to artists like Ed Ruscha and Ray Pettibon.
Yeah, sure. In the music world there are things that are influenced by film and art, of course. But I think that’s really something that came from the band as a whole rather than an expression of my own artwork.
"I see my work as a continuum, even though the way I approach art making is more conceptual or cerebral than music, which tends to be more intuitive."Kim Gordon
So in terms of zines, you were making Sonic Death for a while as a fan-club zine?
Yeah, Sonic Death we had going for a while but zines were more Thurston’s thing. He had a zine, Killer, in the early 80s.
How about the books you’ve done with Nieves?
Oh yeah, I’ve done a couple of art books, yeah. And there were always zines, I mean I once did one with Mark Gonzales, and I did a couple of limited edition things.
Your interest in suburbia comes through a lot in your visual practice, what would you say are the origins of that and your interest in real estate language? Do you think you’re hyper-aware after growing up in LA during a period of large-scale urban development?
Yeah, maybe, in New York there’s a lot of condos being built. For a long time it didn’t seem like there was hardly any building going on in New York and now it’s kind of crazy. I don’t know whether I’m hyper-aware, I mean – its hard not to notice? I’m doing a show at 303 Gallery which is taking names from some of those [condo] developments.
I’m probably influenced by growing up in LA and seeing track developments with all these names, really the selling of lifestyle in buildings, which is still really interesting to me. They’re like mega-structures with stores in the same building.
"I guess in the early 80s I was thinking a lot about how design influenced art and art influenced design and that dialogue. Design taking personal things and putting it in a public arena, whether it’s ad copy or something - that’s interesting to me."Kim Gordon
Going back to Design Office and what you were saying about not wanting to write about yourself too much in the book – do you think that is something that is a concern throughout your practice? How would you say you balance not wanting to have anything too focussed on yourself with making work that is also very much from the self?
Well the music certainly is more like that, and I mean I do feel that even artists who are very like super-formal or conceptual, there are definitely still elements of personality that is why they make the work they make. Even if on the surface it doesn’t seem like that.
I guess in the early 1980s I was thinking a lot about how design influenced art and art influenced design and that dialogue. Design taking personal things and putting it in a public arena, whether it’s ad copy or something – that’s interesting to me. On the one hand the idea of Design Office was that it’s kind of a way to get out of it just being my name or something, like having a fake group. It also is kind of going against the convention of the famous artist. There have been a lot of collaborative groups and so many fake artists with fabricated names and things like that, which is always interesting.
Sonic Youth and the image of being a musician and everything attached to it, that was part of the reason. And yeah, I could go and lean more towards using my persona in the place of that but I ultimately feel like it’s more limited in the long run. I mean, sure it’s kind of fun for some artists playing off that.
"That was the hardest thing, trying to talk about my art practice or integrate just ideas about the art world in there and not be boring about it"Kim Gordon
Which authors were you thinking about when you were writing the book?
Mostly, I wasn’t thinking… I mean, at some point I reread this Joan Didion book of essays and I wanted to make the parts on Sonic Youth more essay-like and kind of build around a song or something. I suppose I could have approached the whole thing as essays, like Lena Dunham’s book or something but I kind of felt like there was a whole story there that created this arc. I mean, Lena’s also how old, like 25? She remembers really well like the details of her 3rd grade y’know? So it makes sense.
Last spring I had this book of selected writing that came out and I kind of wished I could have bound both of them together because that was the hardest thing, trying to talk about my art practice or integrate just ideas about the art world in there and not be boring about it or not say enough. But also, you don’t want to put everything in because that’d be kind of boring. I guess I just tried to choose things I felt talked about how I evolved image-wise and song lyrics that might relate to that in some way.
"New York has become more and more beautified, there are more and more stray benches, so many little triangle parks and planters in the middle of the street and things like that."Kim Gordon
About the Author
Billie studied illustration at Camberwell College of Art before completing an MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art. She joined It’s Nice That as a Freelance Editorial Assistant back in January 2015 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis.