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(Dis)information Overload

Plato described  rhetoric as the art of ruling the minds of men. Reggie Watts uses rhetoric as a tactic of disorientation—his stand up sets combine a mesmerizing display of nonsensical verbiage with improvised vocal beatboxes. Imagine a bilingual, psychedelic George Carlin with a massive fro, an intimidating lexicon, and an affinity for hip hop. In [...]
Danny Hamen

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Plato described  rhetoric as the art of ruling the minds of men. Reggie Watts uses rhetoric as a tactic of disorientation—his stand up sets combine a mesmerizing display of nonsensical verbiage with improvised vocal beatboxes.

Imagine a bilingual, psychedelic George Carlin with a massive fro, an intimidating lexicon, and an affinity for hip hop. In order to get a sense of his dizzying on-the-spot routines, below is an improvised monologue Watts told me over the phone.

There is always the fable of the once-forgotten person who was actually the last person to remember who they were, which was kind of an insignificant blip in the history of these types of people. Initially, their responses were often times weaker than the outcome. In that particular case, this person, who I would never reveal the identity of, is oftentimes left relegated to figuring out whatever it is that they are disinterested in.

 

Onstage, he ends his nonsensical speeches with a warbling groan and hiss, and with the twist of a knob on his handy loop machine, his voice transforms into a rhythmic beat he is able to croon overtop of, his lyrics containing whatever spontaneous topic jumps into his oversized brain.

But beneath his improvised soundscapes and incomprehensible monologues lies an abstract yet profound layer of meaning. Watts purposefully plays with sound and language as a means of satirizing corporate and oppressive rhetoric.

“What I employ onstage is very much a use of Orwellian doublespeak. It is language that people use on a TED Talk or by technological and corporate leaders—lots of buzzwords and hip jargon—phrases that we have become used to, that seem to mean something [they] actually [don’t].”

Considering one of his most watched sets is a TED Talk, the irony is not lost on me.

Watts is known to wear many hats. The multifaceted German-born, Brooklyn-based comedian is a musician, beatboxer, and actor, making his way onto television in 2012 on IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang! after two successful rounds of nationally syndicated stand up specials. To get an idea of the absurd nature of Watts’ career, he played a one-man bandleader on a fake talk show on Comedy Bang! Bang! Today, he is the real bandleader on The Late Late Show with James Corden where he even has his own segment where he asks the celebrity guests a variety of bizarre questions about philosophy.

“If there is proof that we are living in a simulation, amongst many other extraordinary things that have happened in my life, that would be a huge wink.”

When I called Watts, he was in California stepping foot into his first legal dispensary, a more than fitting place to discuss his surrealist brand of humor. Unlike the numerous accents and languages Watts utilizes onstage, his actual voice is playful yet grounded and thoughtful, certainly the type of person whom I might expect to find in a headshop in the middle of the day.

Describe yourself as a child. What were your hobbies and friends like? I was a weirdo. An only child, biracial and bicultural. I just kind of gravitated towards goofiness and entertainment. I was always interested in making art or some kind of music.

Was there a sharp cultural juxtaposition moving from Montana to Seattle when you graduated high school? There kinda was. When I moved there in 1990, it was still pretty small. The grunge scene had been brewing since the late 80’s and just about the time I got there it was about to go supernova. People knew something was happening, but it hadn’t got so crazy where The Gap was selling the look.

Did you get the sense that you were to be a part of significant cultural event? We felt like we were someplace historical. The moment that really marked it was when Kurt Cobain committed suicide. When that moment hit and all of the kids in the neighborhood started walking towards the Seattle Center for an impromptu vigil, I remember thinking that there would never be another moment like this, that this is the last movement in rock n’ roll history. With the internet, it has become hard to measure what a scene is anymore. We can definitely look at aggregation. I mean, there must be an algorithm out there or something for that. It’s like we need artificial intelligence to tell us what is hip anymore.

Why do you think the obfuscation of language makes for a successful comedic device? What are you trying to convey? Language is great because it enables us to get through mundane tasks—to transmit ideas. It is a form of communicative compression. With language, we have kind of come to expect it to be used in a mundane way, but for entertainment purposes, we like to play with language. In the tradition of comedy, all the way back to court jesters, language was used in order to create an artful turn of phrase or a twist. In my particular case, I use some of that, because I am kind of channelling language in a stream of consciousness type way. I am more using language to subvert language itself. The sound of language. The timing of language. Words that sound like other words. It is all fair game. I like to pick it apart or reconstruct it.

I have also been interested in language and its various uses, especially in interrogative ways and as a means of control. Language can be a bit of a con—using five words when one could do, to make yourself seem more intellectual. It is a form of hacking. Although hacking does imply more consciousness—I think some of the people that do this are just hacks.

I read that you once  described yourself as a disinformationist. Could you unpack that for me? Having a tradition in performance art, it always reflects back to the different methods of troll. We know what they were doing with language, so I can take that and turn it into a form of entertainment. This information is mixing truth and fabrication and finding the gradient between the two and employing it in an extreme way that feels like entertainment.

In a way, that reminds me of absurdism. What are your thoughts on that? Do you believe that humans live in a purposeless, chaotic universe? I believe that we live in a universe that allows us to interpret it anyway we want to. It is up to us to define our own existence. You can take advantage of that because many people are resigned to the idea that things exist in one certain way. That is why art is so great, because it takes advantage of the fact that people take reality for granted. When they are presented with an alternate view of the same thing, it shows them that there is actually a myriad of ways to interpret a situation. For me, absurdism is the pressure reliever for taking things too seriously. The one thing the Trump administration lacks is a sense of humor. And they wonder why they are hated so much. Because they have no sense of joy. Absurdism is a way of forcing that perspective that is antagonizing.

Inspired by the ‘90s and Todd Oldham’s recent splashdown at the Wexner, this year’s Off the Grid fundraiser (3.10) will not only feature Watts, but also Canadian DJ phenom Jacques Greene and local spinster Kenny Lectro. Your ticket not only supports Wex Education programs, but will get you samples of some of the finest bites in the city. Tickets are $60-$75 (members) through March 9 and $75-90 day-of. For more visit wexarts.org.

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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: Kate Morgan, 2D mixed media artist

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Kate Morgan began developing her ghostly, layered two-dimensional portraits after going back to school at the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2005. She already had some background in visual arts through her work in fashion and commercial photography, so the transition to drawing and painting was organic.

Morgan’s textured collages are inspired by folklore, mythology and a variety of artistic periods — especially Byzantine art. The 2011 Columbus Arts Festival Emerging Artist alum and 2019 exhibiting artist welcomes a wide array of complex themes into her pieces — including symbolic, cultural, historical and spiritual themes — while utilizing layers of vintage paper and original drawings to create visual depth and a sense of mystery.

Her pieces are purposely vague, leaning toward more minimalistic ideas to allow for wider interpretation by audiences. Largely her art depicts the female form, with as many layers and stories to tell as that of every human being. This is done with an eclectic assortment of materials — including sheet music, German Biblical pages, newspaper and maps — to add detail in both a topical and textural sense.

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And yet, Morgan still continues to look for a challenge. From venturing away from her familiar blue hues to exploring different mediums like ceramics, her work knows no creative limits.

Morgan has exhibited at the Columbus Arts Festival nearly every year since 2011. She has gone on to win two jurors’ choice awards in the 2D category at the Columbus Arts Festival, as well as sell and have work juried at other major festivals across the country. In Columbus, her work can be seen as part of the Columbus Makes Art and Donatos Pizza collaborative mural “Every Piece Is Important” at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

Morgan has a BFA from CCAD and currently works out of her Franklinton studio in Columbus. Experience this stunning work first hand when you visit her at booth M572 on the Main Street Bridge during the Columbus Arts Festival from June 7-9 at the downtown riverfront.

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Arts & Culture

Be Square: Changes coming to arts community at 400 W Rich

Mike Thomas

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If you haven’t visited the thriving arts community at 400 West Rich street in awhile, you might be surprised to see how much things have changed. Now, the minds behind the city’s hub for the arts are changing things up to better reflect the area’s evolution.

400 Square is the new collective moniker for the array of concepts that currently occupy the buildings on the 400 block of Rich street in Franklinton. The rebrand seeks to unify the community of artistic innovators who call the area developed by Urban Smart Growth their creative home.

Promo art for 400 Square by Anthony Damico

Spaces encompassed in the rebrand include Strongwater, The Vanderelli Room, and Chromedge Studios, and of course, the studios at 400 W. Rich. While the name may be changing, the group remains committed to providing and sustaining a thriving hub for creatives through education, resources, and entertainment opportunities in the area.

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With the launch of 400 Square, Urban Smart Growth Director of Operations Seth Stout has led his team to develop new offerings for each of the growing spaces. Food and Beverage Director Lauren Conrath and Events Director Molly Blundred have taken the lead with changes to the Strongwater brand, while Community Director Stephanie McGlone and Art Director AJ Vanderelli are facilitating programming for all ages and abilities on the artist side.

Through all of the changes on the way, the staff at 400 Square are committed to bringing the public the same high quality of workshops, events, exhibitions, and more that have always been part of their unique creative community.

Stay tuned for more info—the new 400 Square officially rolls out during the weekend of Columbus Arts Fest 2019, June 7-9.

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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: Cousin Simple to wow crowd with energy, passion

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As a young up-and-coming band, Cousin Simple is excited to play at this year’s Columbus Art’s Festival. In their two years as a band, they have already done a lot of really cool things, such as making a single with L.A. multi-platinum music producer David Kershenbaum, playing at Vans Warped Tour at Blossom Music Center, and selling out shows at the A&R Bar, the Basement and The Big Room Bar. But there is much more they want to accomplish including recording more music, making a music video and playing more shows in and out of Columbus.

The band members are all Columbus born and raised. Four members currently attend The Ohio State University, while their drummer Joel is finishing up his junior year at New Albany high School. Cousin Simple brings an energy and passion to the stage and gives everything they have to their performances, regardless of the crowd size. They just released a new single in February called Honeybee, available on iTunes and Spotify and have a single set to release May 10 titled “Star Destroyers.”

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Columbus is a great city for musicians. Whether you’re in the indie, rock, or hip hop scene, there are other musicians and music industry people willing to help you out. Columbus also takes a great sense of pride in its “local gems.” People love to see musicians who are doing well in their hometown and are willing to support them in many ways.

There are so many organizations that have taken this to heart and are helping bands get great opportunities. CD102.5, WCBE 90.5, PromoWest Productions and the Columbus Music Commission have helped Cousin Simple get airtime, shows and support. When it comes to music cities, Columbus may not be the first place that comes to mind, but there are so many bands and musicians doing exciting things it’s making the future bright for them and the Columbus music scene.

But Cousin Simple recognizes that none of this would be possible without the support of their family, friends and FANS that come to each and every show. They are humbled and motivated by their audiences who energize them to make every performance an experience their fans won’t forget. 

Cousin Simple will perform on the Big Local Music Stage on Rich Street on Friday night, June 7 at 7:45 p.m.

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