Taking Brad Back: an interview with Holiday Black, Emily Raw, and Laura Marie Marciano

The radically glitterful Holiday Black, Emily Raw, and Laura Marie Marciano, all came together to write, direct,  score and star in the audacious gemstones produced “BRAD” video.

Brad is an archetype many self-identified females are extremely familiar with. No one likes Brad.  In fact, we loathe BRAD.  There have been times, we used to love to hate him or hate to love him.  The BRAD video  breaks it all down for us.  It is, among other things, a bold, creepy and radically joyful take down of patriarchy.   It’s pretty on the surface but brash and loud beneath the paper trail of Brad.

Working on the registers of play, truth, and social critique, these artists deftly guide us through the uncanny abyss of “HIM”.   Brad has become a  thing, a flattened lifeless  paper droid. For our own self reflection, possibly even for fun.

We are taking Brad back.  And He is ours now. This isn’t all about Brad as much as this is about all of us.

This video is glitter and guts.

BRAD in bed

So Who is Brad?

Holiday: The original Brad is a white man. Actually, he is a republican political consultant. Not kidding. He believes in hamburgers and strip malls–let freedom ring, right? He’s the absolute limit of patriarchal masculinity, and simultaneously it’s apex. Brad is a force of a colonial empire building which finds it’s basis in white-washing, consuming, and firm borders that police who we can be. He possesses of infinite authority, yet is made out of paper. For me, his cardboard form brings up a lot of questions about what masculinity means as defined by the patriarch–and what does femininity mean in contrast? I don’t know. Are these just questions about gender or do the questions about gender also intersect with our reading of Brads IRL who look capable, stoic, clean–do these virtues mirror our conception of nationhood/patriotism? And what does that mean? Idk. For me Brad brings up all these things, so I’m not even sure that he is just one person.

Laura:  Brad – Brad was born from Holiday’s head when we ladies were driving up a mountainside to protest the death of Ana Mendieta last winter. We were all pretty emotionally wrecked and we were so happy to have found the archetype of the patriarch, aka Brad to spew our hatred towards.It was a fucked up day. Emily even comfort braided my hair.

brad_ferry_takeover Creepy Brad

Emily: Holiday’s much better at putting this into words than I am — there are reasons I work in images – but Brad is the gatekeeper. He is the embodiment of white-cis-hereto-patriarchal-capitalist privilege, entitlement personified. I had a hard time explaining to people before making the emoji who Brad was, would try & get a wall of blank stares in response, but as soon as an image existed everyone immediately recognized him. We all know Brad.

Tell me a little bit about the story behind the making of Brad?

Holiday: This time last year I was a teacher at an extremely conservative private school on the upper east side. One of my most abhorrent (ok I also secretly adored her) co-workers was a woman with a husband she talked about all the time. She used to vent to me and I heard all about this man’s thoughts on American Sniper and his dreams of buying a mansion in Connecticut (which he would fashion w/ 6 flat screen tvs, duh). I heard about how he would come home drunk and act like a toddler, and about how Brad picked a fight at Bed, Bath and Beyond over monogrammed pillows. Between the draconian school policies and non-stop Brad anecdotes, I felt like I was working in gringots. It took six months of hearing about Brad before I finally met him at a school fundraiser (where he actually told me that I liked teaching and classroom dynamics because it was like reality tv, which of course women like because it’s such ‘mindless’ entertainment) but for those first six months I started imagining him as a character subject to my own imagination. I took notes.

Emily, Laura, Monica, Gio and I all met up to caravan to JT’s Crying; A Protest at DIA Beacon. We were just talking about our shitty lives and exchanging tales of misery when my Brad and the patriarchy inevitably surfaced as conversation fodder. People seemed to relate to my Brad-related angst, and I was stoked because it made me remember that this tension and frustration I harbored for Brad didn’t exist in a vacuum. Like, the reason Brad made me wanna shove my head through a brick wall wasn’t because I didn’t eat breakfast or was pmsing or something. The anger I had towards Brad was something bigger than the forever-present 13 year old mall brat deep inside me–it wasn’t just idiosyncratic. I guess in an oppressive world, one thing we all share is this sense of a silent, invisible tyranny. Naming the omnipotent felt important. Dashing through the snow that day in Laura’s car, it felt good to widdle down the ambient doom into this one asshole dude–Brad.

IMG_4454small

Laura: Well I had told Holiday I wanted to produce a poetry video of her work for gemstones, and we asked Emily to be the filmmaker. I spent an epic day in Prospect Park with these two on the first shoot day- then they rolled on and created the whole thing!

Emily: Brad was born last winter en route to Beacon. Monica McClure, Giovanna Olmos, Laura, Holiday, & I were headed to a protest performance at DIA organized by Jennifer Tamayo & Christen Clifford, a feminist mass mourning for Ana Mendieta at the Carl André retrospective. Everyone but Monica I met for the first time in that car. We were in pretty bleak spots personally & bonded pronto. Then faced down the patriarchy together & got some lunch. The road trip home was girl magic, playing with each other’s hair & minds, riffing through the snow. The root of Brad is all Holiday. She had an idea initially for a Brad performance & was explaining to us who Brad was & we all recognized him immediately.

Laura, Holiday & I brainstormed the video at some point midsummer together & then Holiday & I met up on Wall St with a camera & started walking & talking & stalking Brads. The words were written later, as a response to having worked on the visuals together.

It was all a bit backwards I suppose, but we wanted to do something not too straight, something not a music video. & there we definitely succeeded! Only a poet would let me shoot her boinking a paper man I made.

The most extended riff was off Holiday’s diatribe about a co-worker who wouldn’t stop talking about her fiancé. His name was Brad.

BRAD

Is there a specific audience you envision this video being for?

Holiday: Anyone who viscerally experiences the rage I feel for the way things are atm. Sometimes when I’m encountered by Brads or by others who simply skate along the vanilla surface of the current world order I have this swampy, seized feeling I can’t describe. It can be hard to name the illness that surrounds you when that illness is not culturally recognized as toxic, but is instead declared to be an attribute. Basically I think ‘success’ can be pretty sociopathic, and this video is sort of a nod to those of us who are more interested in freedom and authenticity. Brad is for people who want to play. I want it to be for people who can appreciate watching life from the margins, but are interested in constructing a new universe and want to laugh about the one we currently exist in.

Laura:  This video is for every woman who fears the beer garden, the finance bro, compulsorily heterosexual desire, holidays with distant relatives,  fucking button-ups, Wall Street, weekend music festivals in Williamsburg, tech dudes in REI vests in fall,  walking down the street in Murray Hill,and being told what to do by a dude with way too much Polo sport on.  It is for all those who find there way to gemstones webpage looking for salvation. They will find it in the work of Emily and Holiday.

Emily: The five of us in that car last winter. Anyone else is welcome to take what they will from it, of course, but I made it for us in that car.

Were there themes that came out after filming that you didn’t expect when you first concepted the Brad video?

Holiday: Definitely. At first I was mostly interested in this one specific Brad, and I was really interested in social class and masculinity and the insane power surge that happens when the two collide. Earlier my ideas of brad were more about his position as sort of an imperial gatekeeper, an supreme ghoul of the neoliberal patriarchy. A lot changed in my personal life throughout the project, and I think performance of gender became more important to me than it had been before. I got really interested in how gender functions as an arm of empire, how gender can almost be like a police unit. And like Brad, gender, or at least the heteronormative, patriarchal understandings of gender, is so 1D!

veil

Laura:  like all good gemstones, these two are not afraid to run from what critic Rosliand Galt calls the Pretty Aesthetic. A pretty or decorative aesthetic in film is often excluded by masculine film culture, for lacking depth, or being surface,  which is of course so relevant to this work on many levels. Nothing about the prettiness of this production makes it trite in the least. Rather it renders it powerful- illuminating all the nuanced cues that Brad’s character can’t and will never see, when it comes to the immense struggle of our female protagonist, of all people really, to not fall for the patriarch. I think prettiness, as an aesthetic, as a tool, is something I hadn’t anticipated being another layer to explore, theoretically. But I feel we have produced a new vocabulary for future gemstone projects that embraces and includes prettiness, for all bodies, in all its forms, as a serious venue for deeper narrative and critique.

Holiday and Emily are a dynamic duo and I am so happy they wanted to do this work in the name of our collective.

Emily: Ooo, Laura, love that bit about the Pretty Aesthetic. It’s worth noting that the day we all met I had that morning sent off the last of the images for Monica McClure’s “Tender Data” which were text art made from a secret girl cipher that she drew & I coded. The line of text I projected onto her skin for the photographic images in the book was “This is why I have tried to use surfaces to create other surfaces rather than changing the conversation.” Which is an exegesis of a Pretty Aesthetic if I ever heard one.

Using paper, a discussion of surfaces is implicit I suppose.

For me the video was something Laura named, which is absolutely there but I never consciously planned, an evocation of that baited trap which is the attraction of conformity, the lie of ease. Structurally the video’s a truncated horror comedy satirizing romance tropes, a joke among friends. But jokes, of course, are super serious. We were taken aback while filming by the response to the Brad object. To us he was relentlessly creepy. Holiday & I both freaked out walking past him in our apartments. You’d head to the bathroom in the night & catch him out of the corner of your eye, sitting there leering… Ugh, I’m still shuddering. But people on the street loved him. The allure of Brad is real. My friend’s son was camping out in our yard while I was constructing Brad & fell for him hard. The kid’s too cute for his own good & something of a bully & the level to which he identified with Brad is, frankly, concerning.

Brad1

Laura, what is your favorite element collaborating/producing a gemstone video?

Laura: I really like linking up talented people. It’s like magic and raining glitter and getting a text right back. For this project, I had become enamored with the textual complexity of Holiday’s poetry. She has a way of sewing the mundane, and the horrifying, with a silver lining. Her talent as a writer is enormous, and this film project needed an equally talented director. Enter of course, Emily Raw, with THE quickest brain and endless creative energy, and you have yourself a gemstone team. I certainly have a vision for the type of work I want gemstones to be producing- that is committed to honesty at all costs. Emily and Holiday’s portrayal of the actual fear and oppression of women by the patriarch, the sickening end game of promised comfort we all try and avoid, is spot on.

Emily, how do you go first go about directing/creating a video?

Emily: This project was deliberately unlike any other video I’ve done. We were committed to creating something new that could only exist in a video format, as opposed to illustrating a pre-written text or track. Generally I start with a vision then try to realize it. With Brad there was no vision till the end, all we knew at the outset was who he was & how we felt about him. We constructed the project as a right-brained trust experiment, itself a rebuke to the Bradness of it all, which drives the commodification of art & self, drives the compulsion to perfect perfect perfect, to control control control. The video’s weird & rich, & the paper man sex scene may be my proudest creative achievement to date. Watching it now, it seems inexorable in hindsight. But we were clueless & panicking throughout. We just chose to trust our brains & each other & did it anyway.

word_scramble

Holiday,  what as the writing process of Brad? Also how did you come up with the sound for Brad?

Holiday: I was and continue to be a major creep-o when it comes to writing Brad. I have days where I literally follow Brads around the city and take notes on them, which I think is where all of our bouncing around the Financial District in the video maybe stems from. I’m interested in flipping the script–what does it mean for me, a young woman, to be the one policing and documenting male behavior?

I got into a hole reading about Wall Street and consuming narratives of young businessmen working in the Stock Exchange. Yes, I watched Wolf on Wall Street…lol. I was thinking a lot about criminals and, despite my being a cis woman, was feeling some gender outlaw type shit. I was thinking about how our modern day is actually pretty wild west, and wondering why the behavior of Brads, which is so quietly violent, is not considered criminal.

A lot of the sounds I used for the audio component are taken from clips of 80s documentaries explaining like “WHAT IS THE STOCK MARKET?” or from clips of live bidding on youtube. I used a korg electribe to plug in the sounds and build a super basic beat. I sampled ticker tape and the sound of a stock purchase being made, a cash register–which for me has an interesting contrast with something like a wedding scene. It’s interesting to think about heterosexual romance as a drummed up site of exchange.

Holiday, who is your character in Brad? How do you inhabit her?

My character in Brad is myself. I think there’s a thing where young women get “swooped up,” by men and get into these strange pre-packaged relationships where there’s unequal exchange that owes itself to gender socialization and hetero-hegemony. I know that in relationships with men I’ve unconsciously had this notion of  “WOW YOU, MAN, ARE ACKNOWLEDGING ME RIGHT NOW WHICH MEANS I HAVE A RIGHT TO EXIST.” No matter how my character tries though, she’s not contained by the script. She compresses her into these classical roles of rom-com femininity regardless, as if she is a product lacking a price tag. An assessment of her value as a human being comes in tandem with Brad’s proprietary gaze. Brad is the surveyor and I am the surveyed.

69

What surprised you during the making of this video? Or did anything about the outcome surprise you?

EMILY: I’ve worked with paper for years in the studio, in still images, but this was my first time bringing it into video. Movement provides a whole new series of challenges – for Brad I attached him with safety pins to Holiday, who essentially had to puppeteer him while performing. My next poetry collaboration is with Natalie Eilbert, a 10-minute horror movie based on her epic poem “Manhole,” about a post-apocalyptic feminist dystopia where all the men have died & someone is trying to reassemble them from their parts. I’d like to incorporate dance & have a lot to think about in terms of mechanics.

Holiday: Like Emily said I think what was extremely interesting in this project was it’s evolution over time. I was really happy to see my rage take some sort of tangible form that could be made decipherable to others–and the Brad emoji Emily made is a language of assholery that is immediately intelligible. I think this project was successful for me because it started out with such a broad net, and now that I have more of a framework I’m interested in potentially making a whole manuscript out of Brad prose poems. I think there’s a lot to dig up so I sort of feel like there’s treasure in the douchebag of Brad.

What do you hope registers the most with people after watching this video?

EMILY: Holiday did such a great job with the Brad concept, it can’t help but resonate. Everyone knows Brad. We were chatting last night about coming up with Brad merch, some clever tat people would buy in droves that would also function as an art object, a commentary on capitalism that would result in a capitalist triumph. We haven’t any specific ideas yet, still too hungover for higher functioning, but our fantasy would be to make Brad work for us.

Holiday: I’m interested in the video as some sort of mirror into normalized, bureaucratized tropes of heterosexual romance–as I am often performing the feminine, I’m hyper aware of it’s existence as just that: a performance. In the case of our culture and specific history, marriage is an artifact of a system whose roots are in property, ownership, etc. I’m interested in what “romance” means in the longer-term landscape of conquest and accumulation, and I think that Brad’s total goofyness can maybe point at the goofyness of all these things.