Family 23 - Interviewing Michael 23 and Joanna 23 on Community and Cult Technology in the Age of the Thought Criminal
I want to introduce everyone reading to some very special people that are part of my world. I know them from my endeavors as an artist in Phoenix, Arizona for more than 15 years. Locally the community of artists and thinkers they have brought together under several incarnations and names. Today they are infamously know as the proprietors of the local art gallery called the Firehouse. But to those of us who are a bit more socially acquainted with them not just through the downtown Phoenix Artlink, they are something more important. They are a rock in the archeology that is the greater historical significance of Phoenix. Their influence in the post-millennial Arizona can be felt as an undercurrent that is know to an old timer like me, as Thought Crime.
Thought Crime is the vehicle of building community under an understood emblem, appropriately taking its name from the Orwell novel - taking its philosophy from the deeper empathy that 1984 resonates with, but is lost on the greater fallen Rome that we call the United States of America. Thought Crime is a invisible force that is coming of age as the community behind it head toward new goals of as it enters the live streaming era of greater influence thru technology. But as all greater artistic movements were unaware they were masters within a budding renaissance until history had been written. I feel as a writer and friend of this group mind under the goddesses of Doublespeak in 2010, this is a sacred temple ground that deserves the chance for the world to see it for the beautiful creation it is becoming.
All of this being because of the beautiful mind of my long time Thought Criminal comrade Michael23 ( yes, that is his actual name, and that will be explained by him in the interview as it progresses. ) ... on the day I had chance to sit down for the first time ever and interview my friend, I was amazed as he told me his story, and I realized I was meeting someone for the first time that I had know for years. Added to this beautiful moment in time. I had the pleasure to also be able to meet and interview for the first time Michael23 with his wife Joanna23 and their young son Enki23. The article is laced and glittered with pictures from the long standing history of Thought Crime, the Fire House, and many things that I hope you will find of interest as I let you the readers into the world of many wonders that I know simply as the love brought together by a man, a woman, and baby makes...
The First Family of Phoenix...In the only interview that I believe has ever been done with them as a family, as human beings...
FIrst Family of the Phoenix Artscene Michael23 and Joanna23
Photos Facebook Pages.
We Begin the Interview Initially Talking with Just Michael 23
Blake4d : " Why don't you start by giving myself and the readers a little bit about your background..what should we know about you? "
Michael23 : " My name is Michael 23, I am an artist and engineer in downtown Phoenix...a computer scientist kind of person. I came from the Midwest, I grew up in a small town outside of Chicago called Elmhurst. I had a sister, and I was adopted. I came to Arizona to get away from where I grew up as far as possible.I found myself coming to go to school at Arizona State University, I came out for Engineering, I wanted to be an astronaut originally..."
Blake4d : " Really? "
Michael23 : " Yes, well I got into the aerospace program and as I kind of found out that you had to be in the Air Force literally to be an astronaut...so I kind of changed my course, I have always be not interested in the military aspect of life. So I, navigated out of aerospace and went into architecture, and philosophy, and I ended up leaving school for a while to travel. Umm...I think that is when I started experimenting with psychedelics for the first time. Negotiating out of, well I was disillusioned with how the whole system really worked...you know, going from the highest aspiration of being an astronaut - and realizing the real costs to you that were involved, in how it pays into a system of being in the military and empire. And I went about finding other ways, I liked the rigor of engineering but I didn't really like the structure of the empire...So, I fell into architecture which had some of the similar rigor but still found myself navigating out of engineering, out of architecture, and into more creative and speculative perspective learning.
But I am learning a lot more from psychedelics at the time than anything that the universe was providing. My last ditch attempt to stay in school was to switching into a Philosophy degree. At the time, I was having some intense existential dilemmas and sitting in a Philosophy 101 class finding that there was really no parody between what was being taught as philosophy and some of the real questions that confront us, when we start to ponder our own existence. Maybe I'd have to become a PhD in Philosophy before I could start contending with some of the questions that were facing me at the time. "
Blake4d : " Was there anyone in your family or background that had similar artistic or other aspirations? "
Michael23 : " Not that I'm aware of...well, my grandmother she did a bit of painting. But I was adopted so I don't know if there was anything genetically or any of that stuff...but, my grandmother she painted and kind of got us into art classes outside of school, when I was like in junior high school, but it didn't really sink in all that much. It wasn't until I had come downtown, let's say it was probably 1989 to see some music shows that were happening at a place called Crash, that was run by David Therion. Then I came to see some of the Wax Trax and other things...I kind of hung around after the show and saw that one of the people running the spaces needed help building giant robots. And I thought wow that sounds really interesting...so I got involved with David Therion with the group called Comfort Control Systems in 1989, and were involved in designing and building a giant robotic crucifix made out of cages for them. It was for the first cyberarts festival - which one of the early art and technology crossover conferences, this was when virtual reality was just really just being born, like I got to meet and interview Karen Lenneer. Who was one of the pioneers of virtual reality...and like
With David in Comfort Control I was able realize that art could be a reasonable excuse for doing advanced research and production outside the contexts of the normal education system, and in some ways I still kind of equate with that. (empire? ) So it self directed in that kind of nature of artist engineer like Da Vinci or something. Where you have your own questions, and you just find technology that is around and you start answering those questions, with your own experiments. But its not so much in order to establish a credential...but it was more for answering questions. More for like getting experience, and learning the tools and the technology, and using your body and your mind together. "
Blake4d : " With that statement, what would you define technology as? "
Michael23 : " My working definition of technology is tools and the knowledge of the use of tools. So its not such a digital thing, not such a computer thing, it is more of just tools. And not just the objects themselves but the human community of knowledge that surrounds and animates the tools. And so from getting this taste of being able to actually experiment with technology and artists coming from sort of the South side of Phoenix, like almost like nowheresville, we were able to make these kind of crazy machines that were a commentary on the oppression of technology. And wanted to showcase these, at this cutting edge conference. We did two of them in a row in a year. And the nature of all this new technology, so it is kind of like we were writing our own ticket into the dialogue of humans with all this new stuff that was coming out. So as artists we have our own relevant conditions that offer commentary on all these new tools, and without the artists doing these things, I think the potential for progress is totally blind. I think that it is very self serving and very derivatively, like this incremental advancement in directions that are generally tending towards their funding sources - which in most countries is often militaristic and empire based. "
Michael, Joanna, and newborn Enki23
Blake4d: " When you say empire, can you give a basic definition of what you mean by that?"
Michael23 : " Empire, well I think of empire as the macro process colonization of the peoples of the world into a, sort of impotent larger identity that offers tons of constraints without any real empowerment. So that we all become kind of caught in a large machine, where our voice becomes insignificant - yet our bodies are still used to push the pyramids together. "
Blake4d : " So we are the tools more than being part of it? "
Michael23 : " Yeah, yeah, I mean...I am a constant advocate for redefining or defining the work of community and society, so that they are practical. When you think of growing up in this place...and the society that we live in, if your definition of society includes the 250 million people that call themselves United Statesians, what do you have in common? Like what is, what's your society, what's the tone, and what's the flavor...and what's your culture there?
To me, that is an impotent word, and if society becomes something that is completely impotent then I think we are kind of lost. I think that we need to have working definitions of collective identity in action, in order for us to have meaning in what we do.
I look at society as being, the collection of people that you encounter in your average year, so its kind of the ebb and flow of people that you come into contact with over the course of a year and its a very small cross section of the people that would fit into your nation, its boundaries, its nationalities, if they travel or communicate over the Internet...its like back in older days you would use the word tribe a lot. I think having a working definition is practical, and self knowledge of achievement and arrival, and that I have become something that is constructive for the people around me, that I have a meaningful role in society. I think if those are qualified by actual human reference then we start having purposeful meaning, and our society starts having a trajectory. And then we can account for our deficiencies without it being just a complete wash. If your population is too large then really everything cancels itself out, and all that we have in common is that we eat and shit. How much is that really going to help you understand who you are?
So then, with community, I think of it as the people that we encounter in the average month, and I don't mean to use the Roman calendar to define the world as much as I do. Its just the convenience..."
BBlake4d: " Who or what do you feel really influenced your thinking?"
Michael23 : " I like a lot of people, I kind of keep them with me, and it changes over time - some have been longer than others. Like right now I look a lot toward Joseph Bueys the German sculptor and performance artist. And William Burroughs, is very important especially earlier on into my survival to this age...he was very crucial as an inspiration of someone who could endure the difficult aspects of existing. There are a lot of other people I look to, it depends on the area. Like I do a lot of artificial intelligence research and development, so I look to a lot of folks from MIT like Patty Mays is an interesting person. I was into Warhol a bit, and find him interesting. Robert Anton Wilson has been a major influence as well, especially with the 23 current - I think Burroughs and Wilson are pretty much the major influences there. Aleister Crowley was a fairly important character for me, to kind of show the rugged individualist going and conquering all these hills of knowledge, and bring them home, and building something functional out of what he has gathered. I like Brian Gyson a lot. For like tapping into the other kind of thing out there...I think Crowley tried to bring it home and personalize it like some kind of self created system - while Gyson kind of left if all out there and just tried to describe it as an entry point to other things. Genesis P. Orridge is pretty interesting to me, he's kind of controversial and well he's living...so his foibles are a lot more in your face. And he also has a history that hasn't always been on the same side of the fence. He was just a person that took a lot of things that are different and separate, and went to the mountain, For him the mountains were like these people like Gyson and Burroughs, and bringing their works and synthesizing it into something that was communicable like a pop music disease. And spreading awareness across the sea. "
Blake4d : " Well you brought up one of the things I wanted to ask you just now. Your name is Michael23, since you have taken 23 as a name...what does that name mean to you, and how did you end up becoming Michael23? "
Michael23 : " I took the name Michael23 in 1990. I was involved with the Temple of Psychic Youth ( TOPY ). My first occurrence of 23 before I took it as a name, I was living in Chicago and was listening to a band called Front4242, they're on Wax Trax. One of the musicians in the band was named Richard23, and I thought that was interesting, a person who had a number for name. But I didn't really understand why. Now were in the times of email addresses and Twitter accounts, everybody has numbers and names, its become a default world. Back then when I was a member of TOPY, there was a practice of taking a coyote name if you were a man, and a Cali name if you were a woman. I was Coyote164, by having a kind of special name that kind of helps bridge that community together from a distance, but also it allows you a certain degree of anonymity, and a little distance from your normal daily persona. So I did a bunch of writing as Coyote164 within that community. I also was becoming more activated outside that community in the local art scene. Started doing art shows back then. The first one was called Art in the Dark. Back then I was just called Michael, and it was when I published the first issue of Thought Crime I became Michael23. It was just a way of asserting a Nome de plume that was...well when you take away your surname you have things that are your own, like the magistrate can't look you up...that kind of thing. So it was partially that, in some ways it was an anonymizer by taking a number as a last name. But in other ways it allows you to stick out. I grew up in the Midwest, where there were many Michaels, so in some ways I was speaking on behalf of the Michaels, as just one of the Michaels. And as a specific Michael, now people could recognize me, where my name would stand out from other people. It has that double edge to it. It was later on that I really reconciled, the notion of being adopted, and having that name be a name that I chose. That Michael was the name that my landlord, or the feudal king that my family had me grow up under...and by making my own name, was like making a name for myself. "
Blake4d : " Kind of like when you are given a name as an initiation or a rite of adulthood in Latin or tribal cultures...choosing a name of self affirmation?"
Michael23 : "Yes, and also like taking the coyote names, you have your normal world name or your flat default world name, they called it. And I was all about bridging that world with that secret name, and that secret me that was inside. The waking world, and I was also into bridging a lot with psychedelics between that waking world and the other sides. Just really bridging, I took the name Michael23 as a bridge to all these different places...in stead of it having duplicity, that was just at face value. So that's a lot of it. Where it came from before my experience, I always think of William S. Burroughs where it originated. He was doing all this work in Tangiers with the study of language. As a heroin junkie and experiencing what that was about, and I think that it afforded him this great amount of time to witness the deconstruction of language, living as a junkie. He set about this idea, that word is virus. That means, that if I have a piece of information, and I share it with you, its not like I am giving up anything. What happens is that information replicates and spreads like a virus. I think that the number 23 may have been an arbitrary symbol that he used as a tag. To perform experiments and watch this replication happen in this invisible signifier that he spread. And he was hunting all the kind of relentless occurrences, like plane crashes and that sort of thing. And he was gathering in a folder of newspaper clippings all of these dark occurrences, in some ways it seems like he was just charging it. He was gathering all of these intense moments, being in charge of that number puts a spin on it, and he sent it out into the world and watches. It definitely has had a trajectory in the world. I think Wilson really picked it up later on, and demonstrated in the nature of engineering, he was able to take this malevolent sign and basically hack some new coding to it. After Wilson was done with 23, 23 became a symbol of synchronicity and resonance. That being a multiplicity of occurrences which contributed to Burroughs initial work. The malevolent side, became just one side or an example of it as an occurrence, more of a coincidental occurrence. But as you start looking at it through a filter, it was occurring in humorous places but still having its dark side. I was reading recently about how there were 23 doctors that were charged in the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis. And there were more than 300 of them that were brought over and not charged by the US government, and there were probably 666 of those."
Blake4d : " There seems to be a fine line between what you might define as Cult movements, and cultural movements, what do you think the line is between where one movement has it darker or even self destructive and another one takes it to a level where it is more or less positive in its influence?"
Michael23 : " Personally I don't know anyone who would want to organize a community to cause some destructive end product. Even the most misguided attempts, they are all kind of doing it for some higher good. I like William S. Bainbridge's explanation of cults...Its a clique more like, he says that a cult is culture written small. I am really interested in cults. I think that we have traversed the grey area of cult for a long time. When I was in TOPY, that was definitely a cult. It was very interesting, as an identifier. Cults have a fairly negative connotation, because they get publicly exterminated by governments and sometimes they take their own lives. First I would like to talk a little bit historically about cults, and then about an application of cults or Cult Technology which has been more recent in my exploration. Cults are interesting in that, they afford small consentual reality bubbles so that people can find like mindedness and self expression and community idenity in a world that is awash with the mundane. They can have identity signifiers that abolish any individual needs. So with cults you can say well, we are this particular way and it is signifigant. It is not just a conicidental amalgum of choices. All the choices are signifigant, the end result is signifgant, and profiles everything. We're distinguishing ourselves from that mundane, and it has advantages and drawbacks. Advantages are that you can reach a level of self made identity faster, but you run the risk of doing what other people do in association. But it will be different than the homogenized norm. There is that catch and it is really important. And you wanna keep an eye on it so they are not running down your houses or kidnapping your children. In recent times you can think of Jonestown or David Koresh, those people like that...that Mormon community in Texas. The state reacts pretty negatively to cults. I don't know if you read Burroughs 'Naked Scientology'?"
Blake4d : ' No I haven't."
Michael23 : " I was really interested in Scientology like early on. Never really interested in being a member of it. But looking at it as a personified cult. There is a really interesting groups that spun off from Scientology called the Process Church of the Final Judgement. What I think is interesting with a cult like Scientology is that, you can really get up above the natural laws or rules the natural paradigm. Like as a cult you don't have to be a citizen of the United States, because you live on this sector of land. Because of cults you don't have to believe in the last 6000 years of history. As a cult you can render you present and current location based on impressions, and derrive its own history and derrive it own meaning or trajectory in relationship with the rest. It is one of the few mental constructs that affords you that much space. So as you look at groups like Throbbing Gristle that began to experiment with Cult Technology as a means for expression, I think that you are able to start grasping at, hey why don't we all start a cult. Leary in the sixties was like, make your own religion, which I think had the same flavor, why believe in someone else design of your world view. Why not enable yourself to make a work view. Cult Technology is like, you can build a world view with a community of people. Then its no longer just a solitary cult group then, it is community based. Perceptual reality. Consentual reality. So, anybody who is going to try to talk about cult is going to have to say that I don't advocate killing people, and I don't advocate all the attrociites that are attributed...but that's all just human nature, expounded and demonized thru some people that you hardly know. "
Blake4d : " I like what you have to say there, because some of the greatest movements in the world started as cults. In fact all human groups start their movements as cults of one kind or another. And the community that you have brought together over the years through ThoughtCrime and the Firehouse, had grown immensely. In fact many Phoenicians don't really realize that you Michael23 are a pillar of your community here. But more importantly in the moment, that you have also expanded your community over time, and in more personal ways in recent years...Hello Joanna23. .."
A very proud mama Joanna23 and starry eyed Enki23
Firehouse Logo and Pictures
(At this poing Michael23's wife Joanna23 comes to sit down with their 21 month old son Enki in her arms, and sits down with us. She begins breast feeding him as she relaxes for a moment. And I take some time to talk with the woman beside the man in the Family23 )
Joanna23 : " Hi Blake. "
Blake4d : " Now, you are husband and wife right?"
Joanna23 : " Yeah we're married. Ten years in September. "
Blake4d : " Did you meet through Thought Crime...?"
Michael23 : " We met through this giant cult event called Burning Man..in 1998. We were in the same camp. "
(Joanna23 chuckles at this, and I turn my attention back to her. )
Blake4d : " Well since he has told me lots about himself, why don't you tell me a little about your background. "
Joanna23 : " I moved here from L.A. where I was born and raised, ten years ago. And I moved here for love. Because I met my soul mate at that art festival in Nevada, and we lived in different cities so I decided that I would move here to Phoenix. And it worked out. I am a Henna artist, I do body art, and I have done fashion design, and textile design, hair, performing, belly dancing, and I've been involved with the arts since I moved here."
Blake4d : " Do you and Michael share similar views? You obviously are a very open minded person, but what kind of person are you as his Yin to your Yang, so to speak. "
Joanna23 : " ; I think I'm pretty open minded, but more practical in some ways. I'm also more cheerful I guess, and try to keep things somewhat light hearted. I'm not into any one religion or philosophy. I think I have been spending a lot of years just trying to get over the one that I was raised in, which is Christianity and first getting away from that and enjoying having nothing for a while. And then start from there, and beginning building up my own different ideas about stuff. This is all gradual steps for me."
Blake4d : " You are obviously and unusual woman in that you were willing to take the name of 23 when you got married. Is that an official thing...?"
Michael23 : "We're still kind of working out some of our personal and financial stuff, with the changing of the birth names. "
Blake4d : " Well but Joanna, what did it mean to you to take the 23 number as a name. Obviously he is your husband, perhaps not being a person drawn to it for the same reasoning, I was interested in what it means to you personally. "
Joanna23 : " Well, 23 is the number that is for synchronicity. And when we met, I happened to be reading the book 'Illuminatus' by Robert Anton Wilson. That was when we first started dating. So, when that was the book I was reading, he was like 'Ohhh ha ha ha. There are lots of 23's throughout that book, and when I found out that he was named Michael23...well, it made me like him a little bit more. It was kind of like Robert Anton Wilson and the 23 synchronises, they helped to bring us together a little bit. And we thank them for that. Then when Michael explained how he felt about 23 to me, and how it related to him, that he could take his own last name and that it would be all right...I felt like when I got married I didn't want to change my last name, just to take someone elses last name. But if we both were to change our names, then that seemed more like it would be allright. So, even though I am taking a name that he chose. It is still like he still has changed his name too. And I still got to keep and use my last name. "
Blake4d : " That does seem very appropriate, that Michael had all these years delving into the changing to this name, and you were just being exposed to it. That seems very cool. It is so very 23..."
Joanna23 : :" Yes..."
( Everyone laughs at this moment...)
Blake4d: " So how long had you know one another, when you decided to move and be a part of the whole Thought Crime world?"
Joanna23 : " It was a little bit under a year. It took some time, because the timing wasn't quite right when we first met. Although he knew right away in the first week that he loved me. I loved him, but I was still you know, having fun. So it took a while until we really got serious. It was the next year, at Burning Man when he proposed to me. "
Michael23 : " It was after the first year, and like a week, I had an epiphianic moment. I just knew that she was the one for me. I felt like parts of my identity coming together into a completion. Parts of me that had been lost for a long time. Like a complete nification of the self. I felt kind of under her watch...that if I were to come to know her, that I would know myself. I was convinced by that experience, that she was the one. And it just took some really pragmatic courting to bring her into me, my world, more close. I was willing to move to Los Angeles even, To her side of the world. I was ready to leave ThoughtCrime behind. But when we put stuff on the table. It just seemed to be better here."
Joanna23 : " I was ready to move on, since I was born and raised there. I had had enough of L.A. and was ready to try something new. "
Blake4d : " Do you two share things, as far as being involved in the arts community here? "
Michael23 : " We're pretty integrated in it. Like here at the Firehouse, we have weekly house meetings just to see where things are standing. Cause a lot of people come and go over time. We've been doing the structure living thing since 1998. And so with the communial art community that we have, we are both involved, just different aspects."
Blake4d: " Okay, let's backtrack a bit in time. Why don't you tell us about the evolution of the art community you have built here in Phoenix, and try to bring us up to now. When I first met you, you had newly formed Thought Crime..."
Michael23 : " Before that we had a community in Tempe called Little Guyana. Little Guyana was like our second phase. Our first phase was the 805 house, that is where we really had the awakening of community. We created Thought Crime the magazine, the first issue, of that community. Before Thought Crime we had a project called Z-Product. Z-product was basically a message to send out to the world, and find other people that were like us. To find our community. And Thought Crime became the product. So it was really the vehicle for us reaching out to people. We exist. You exist. Let's setup a connection and start communicating. As it was starting to take shape, we were running into trouble with the city of Tempe for having our community exist in a residential house. There was only four people living in the house, but we would have gatherings and parties. And we started getting persecuted on really old laws...like you can't have three or more unrelated adults of mixed gender living in a house, was actually being forced upon us. So we ended up finding a place that had two duplexes and a three bedroom house. So we technically had five addresses, where we housed anywhere from ten to fourteen people. And that was Little Guyana, which the term comes from Jonestown. We were like the children of Guyana, we were the refugees of not so much the Jim Jones community but the generation that survives growing up knowing that there were cults like Jim Jones. When you look and see what the worldview is like, that there are people like Jonestown that are leaving the United States because of its problems, and starting their own communities and living them to the degree of corruption and destruction. To be a survivor of that kind of aspirations gone wrong. In some respects I see them just as fed up, with living and existing as neutered citizens...and we were kind of the refugee, and the orphans of those aspirations. And as horrible as the eventuality of Jonestown was, it is worthwhile for us to gather together and make communities instead of just going ot church, and to school, and to work. While we were living in Little Guyana, the Waco tragedy took place - and you never want to say that you have anything to do with the losers of the culture war. But when Waco took place, I remember taking a big breath of relief, because there was so much tension about being in an alternative community living in the United States, and when Waco happened it was like 'oh well the bomb fell over there'. The state decided to murder all of those individuals over there, and instead of being one of the people on the panopticon, as being observed like someone to be crucified...so we had some time off the clock.
It was later on that we actually had our community invaded. We were doing performance art shows at Little Guyana, and we had police shut down one of our events, contact our landlord saying there was a Satanic cult living in our house, and tried to get us evicted. It was really ridiculous, but it kind of shattered our community at the time. Our landlords were born again Christians but they didn't fall for the lies from the city. They knew the property was pretty horrible when we first moved in there, and I did a lot of renovating. I spent a lot of time haggling the pricing with the owners, working together, and establishing good raport. So, when they got called by the cops they didn't believe what the cops had to say. One of the things that the cops were looking into was, one of the performance art pieces involved ritual cutting of the artist, and I was working on a piece where I was going to light my body on fire. They had undercover police in the audience, and they just decided to swarm our event with video cameras, and fifteen officers. They also had Satanic experts out all of the art, and all the symbols we had drawn on the ground, basically making out to be something that it wasn't. The end result was that we did have to sign a new lease that said no rituals with fire involved. But we stayed there for another year. It felt like we were doing this, to express ourselves outward, and show people that you could have community, even in America. It felt like if you were reaching for the sky, and as your reaching, no matter how high, there is a hidden chainlink fence over all of us it covers. So we eventually moved out of Tempe to downtown Phoenix where at the time, it was a lot more safe. We opened a space in 1995 called Thought Crime which we had for several years. Then we opened the Firehouse in 2001 until now. Since then the downtown has also become much more regulated and commercialized. We're fairing pretty well here, But there still is a lot less liberty, and some repressive expectations with the whole colonization of the downtown. "
Always the smiling proud papa Michael23 and Enki23
Q : To give you some credit Michael, you were one of the first amongst the Phoenix Art community to predict that the downtown art scene was falling under its own weight of its own problems. And you eventually became an active member of the Phoenix Artlink correct?
Michael23 : Well I was on the Phoenix Artlink for six years...
Joanna23 : (jumps in to say ) President !
Michael23 : I finished as President, We were growing the art walk really big and we started getting a lot of tension with the city. In 2005 we had what we call 'Black Friday'. The city had members of every department, along with armed escorts going in and out of every art house with clipboards, connecting every single venue with the reality that they are regulatable, controllable, not in compliance, with the magistrates. They had the cops on horseback..,it was a repressive move by the magistrate to say that the arts community, needs to have troops sent in, and needs to be contained. It has just been layers of that kind of millennial control. Its a challenge to stay positive and proactive. That is one of the current, and ongoing challenges.
Q : At one time wasn't Thought Crime thinking of bowing out of the Phoenix art scene all together?
Michael23 : We were already kind of waiting for the gentrification to kick us out. We watched the apartment buildings being built across the street from us.
Joanna23 : ...the Light Rail was coming...
Michael23 : The property values, were going up and up and up...we saw that we were contributing to that by having our assistance there. I was trying to buy the place that we were in, but I couldn't come up with 700,000 dollars. So, we started working towards forming the Firehouse years before Thought Crime closed, not just out of fear of losing that space but also to expand for more room. We're at a point here, that we are now looking at new locations from here. We have other locations now, we have a complex over on the West side which is print shop for screen printing. And we have another thing out in Miami, Arizona...which is kind of like if we were to leave Phoenix for greener pastures, Miami is like that. Its out of town. But the intention is to recognize that Phoenix is the front line, in my cosmology Phoenix is the city. Miami is the small town. I don't really find the necessity to connect with other cities so much, in this country. So we are just always aware that if we get to a certain point someone is going to come in and kick us out, and try to knock us down. We're designed to handle that I guess. When we lost Thought Crime, even though we had Firehouse already. It was very much a kick in the teeth, it was such a severe loss...we had to move so much of that place into our backyard. A lot of things got ruined by time and weather...
Joanna23 : ...we still haven't completely recovered from that. It was like our backyard.
Michael23 : Yeah, now everything we do here at the Firehouse, it is totally movable. And it figures into the equation. I think one of the things other people have trouble reconciling is how to really takeover, and make yours the space you are in even though it is temporary. A lot of it is learning how to take it with you. Building portable, modular, and mobile...
Q : Well Phoenix wheatherit knows it or now, owes Thought Crime, Firehouse, a lot. Because you have stayed with this community. With all the other opportunities out there in other cities, what keeps you with Phoenix?
Michael23 : " Why Phoenix...?"
Blake4d : " Yes. "
Michael23 : " Well it is simply where you are at. There is this notion that you could go to where you are wanted or where it has been built out for you. You have been promoted to where you should go...where people like you have been before, and they are basically going to cater to your interests. I think of places like maybe San Francisco, or Portland, or I don't know, New York. But I like Phoenix, because it is a place that I was able to come into my own here. In some sense, it is just the place I am from. I think on some level, you really need to work where you are.
The United States has decided to surrender itself to its fascist dictatorial power on the surface of the Earth, and because of this there is a great argument for why stay, why not go somewhere else. Go some where that you don't have to take responsibility for the run of the mill colonization of the planet...worldwide war 24-7. But I think in two ways. One is that this is a place where the people actually need some kind of awareness. And the other sense, is that we are making, and helping that empire to disappear by marching our own world view. That empire is being negotiated out of our daily bread. You know, we are getting rid of it. And I think that the more we learn how to get rid of it ourselves, then it will be less in the world.
So, to me, leaving Phoenix is like leaving the United States or wherever. It is their names, but this is Here. You know, this is just Here. We've kind of taken Phoenix into our own iconography - death and rebirth. In my own artwork, the trans-formative process of death and rebirth, has been a major vehicle for transformation. When we lost Thought Crime, I built this big Phoenix bird to burn.,,to me it is just and obvious place, I think about being here indefinitely, even though it is one of the worst cities in the world. From what I understand, as far as support of the city, or community. It just seems like the good old boys corporate sports mafia arrangement, but I think those kind of plantation owners exist in every province of every kingdom.
I also like now, how Arizona has become the Nazi of the U.S., and I draw a lot of inspiration from Joseph Boise, who was actually a Nazi bomber pilot. Imagine being a f**king Nazi, surviving World War Two, living in Berlin as an artist. after your whole country has lost the war...where you were rendered as the great devil of the planet, you are the mass murderer, your people are the destroyer...How do you try to rebuild society from there? Boise was kind of an urban shaman character. But I live amongst these people that today are the traitors, that are the greatest traitors, the modern Nazi warlords. The United States is one of the most fascist powers on the planet. How do you raise awareness and culture inside a homogenized news society that is just living to worship death or to take over the rest of the world. It is necessary to be here now, and inspire some kid of awareness. A deactivation on a dependency for filth culture...a system to basically go and take from other people, destroy other culture. We couldn't really go and destroy any other culture if we had any sense of our own. We don't even know what culture is, but for land and oil and consumers. But, if we can manifest culture then, we can look at the rest of the world, and that we are the impoverished youngest child. All these other places that we rape and pillage, they are deep. Like I studied mask making on the island of Bali and Indonesia, from a man whose family had been carving masks for 700 years...in the same town. I am constantly befuddled by having to use some latest new piece of technology that no one knows how to use, and I have to figure out how to use it in the one or two years before it becomes obsolete by the next wave of plastic innovation. But these people in this place are taught to not get good at anything. To know that there are deep pools of humans and knowledge that go 700 years back - how do we start? We are so young, how to make people recognize that it is relevant, that we do have much to draw upon. It comes from you, and your father, and your fathers father, in this house, in this town, in this place, with this river, and that mountain - and I don't think we have a lot of grasp of that. Because we are forced to relocate all the time.
So maybe I am the first of my kind, I am the first generation of 23's. Maybe we will live to be a hundred generations. And we will just be living here. "
Blake4d : " That is quite a thought...we are so young of country still, more than 200 years younger than Rome lived to be...?"
Michael23 : " Yeah, I like to think I might outlive the United States. I do not think the United States will last another hundred years. I think that in our lifetimes, we will be calling it something completely different. I mean we already do, we call it America...and America is really Central and South and North America. which those Americans who are standing at the border, shouting 'Jew' at the Mexicans trying to come across - those people are very deluded. I like to start to refer to these people up here as the United Statesians. I have been traveling to Central and South America for the past two years. And I got a taste of the fact that all of those people in Central and South America are Americans. They are all the same people. If you really want to get in touch with who the Americans are you really got to get out of f**king Scottsdale. I think of the U.S. as some kind of Scottsdale gated community. Then there are all of the people, with all of the culture, and all of the tradition, they are all over the place. There is a tipping point we are hitting, and I wouldn't be surprised to see gas chambers set up along the borders. It is that ridiculous. we had a roommate who was captured outside of a bar and put in detention for three months - and while he was in they tried to get him to sign a confession that he was in this country illegally. He was brought here by his mom when he was like four years old, and he lived here for fifteen years. So when he was struggling with weather to stay here, or go to Mexico for the next four years of his life...I thought that Mexico was the far more interesting choice for him, not the United States. There is real deep culture there, temples, arts community, its a revolution. It is just really interesting down there.
But I still see the Phoenix, lasting longer than the United States...I see the smaller fuedal places, are like the smaller towns, the cities may change, but the towns don't really ever change. I think Phoenix will probably be with me my whole life. "
Michael23 : " In some ways you look at all the stuff that has been done. But we are still just barely coming into our own, I'm still working day jobs just trying to pull this stuff together. It is like we are seeing the other side of that. It is my vision to have things be more extensive than it has been. We are already in Phoenix, Arizona...and Miami, Arizona. We are headed down to Mexico in a couple of weeks. We are trying to get something started in Guanajuato Mexico.
One long term ambition is to have Thought Crime become something akin to the Oddfellows, or the Mooselodge or Rotary Club, something that is communicable. Like a 23 virus. So that people can set up art spaces and art communities..."
Blake4d : " Like Toastmasters, where you could go to any town or any city and find a like community meeting? "
Michael23 : " Yeah, I just imagine driving cross country, and seeing the sign of the screaming lady next to the Rotary sign - and that symbol lets you know there is at least one community arts space there. And we would eventually like to have it grow to an expansion that includes cities in both the United States and other countries. The original idea for an out of country space was in Surbhi, Indonesia. I still hope that can happen because Indonesia is such a rich cultural space. There are 14,000 islands, and they all have their cultural difference. I would be wonderful.
Also in the future, we are trying to get to the point where it is expansive. And we have been trying to come up with, why would, what is something, and how would a Thought Criminal be different from someone else. Also what should be the mission of such an organization. I think of it as an adult choice. To actively be a Thought Criminal - it is not joined together by any ideology. Which is one of the risky chances. Can you build a society of people who can interact with each other. Where it is intentional to bring together people who think differently, so that we have people from differently. So that we have people from different religions, or different politics and ideaologies. We respect each other as other humans."
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