“Create or Perish”
Andy the Doorbum & The Alien/Native Movement
Beep-beep-beep-beep… Hot off the press! Art war has been declared on Charlotte! Andy the Doorbum and the Alien/Native Movement have sparked a fire in the hearts of artists and art lovers in our city. It has been my privilege to cover this vibrant and incredibly powerful revolution by photographing this month-long residency in April at Snug Harbor.
The passion was so tangible I had to do some pretty extreme photography to capture as much of the energy as possible — standing on speakers, running around the whole venue, getting on my knees or holding other awkward body positions to get the shot.
Andy the Doorbum Fenstermaker — artist, performer, musician and barefoot philosopher — didn’t even notice the rain during his passionate description of the movement in our first conversation. He is leading, along with his supporters, an art offensive on Charlotte, and the world, called the Alien/Native Movement and it really has gained momentum.
“Andy the Doorbum” Fenstermaker, DJ Justin Aswell Blackwood and many other supporting bands and performers, like Ghost Trees, Jesse Classen, MoMo & Andy Sing Sad Old Sailing Songs, The Emotron, The Luciferian Agenda, Triptych Collective, CDO Charlotte Capoeira, MIAMI DICE, Super Ape, Tal National, Rapper Shane, Tommy V, Ceschi, Justin Aswell and Robert Childers were all featured in the Snug Harbor residency. One of the highlights of his performance the second installment, was when he screamed in his distinct musical howl, “Freedom is free! We just have to reach out and take it!”
This effervescent movement seems enlightened with a type of postmodern philosophy so fresh and raw that it leaves whoever is listening at the mercy of the creativity, intelligence and passion that defines their mission. Incredibly elaborate multi-art performances throughout the month of April showcased five shows at Snug Harbor: street art, parades with an army truck, hitting the streets in surreal costuming while decked out in tribal warpaint saying aloud their mantras, public ceremonies with sage, fire and other sacred objects using a hand-carved wooden altar.
Even ghostly figures roamed the streets at all hours of day and night garb in the, now commonly seen, detailed black and white face paint in long, dark, hooded cloaks walking around Plaza Midwood howling and squealing with strange voice effects that almost scare you they are so other-worldly. This is definitely not something Charlotteans see, well, ever.
This is all to promote the visions behind the Alien/Native Movement and to free the art in Charlotte and beyond; to liberate the very artists we depend on to create it, and it’s working.
The brightest eyes that I’ve ever seen in an audience were at Snug Harbor during the Andy the Doorbum and Alien/Native Movement April residency. So many in Charlotte would have the arts limited and the freedoms of artists in chains. But a new wind is blowing here in the Queen City, ever since it started in December 2012.
The following is an interview I did with Andy at the Alien/Native Movement headquarters – a beautiful historic artsy home they call “High On Freedom House.”
S16: When did you know you were an artist? A musician? How did you get to where you are now?
Andy: When I was a kid I used to draw these little scenes and then I would have stories I would wanna tell my Grandma. I couldn’t write yet, I was too young to write. But I would draw these scenes of wars and stuff that were going on. And I would have my Grandmother write down the story for me[…]. So I started doing that, and when I was probably nine or 10 I had these stuffed animals, and did different voices for. And I found a little boombox that had a built-in microphone.
“I made a band with my stuffed animals and would beat on a pan and make different guitar noises with my mouth and sing in different stuffed animal voices. That’s the first time I did that stuff. It took me a long time […] I started playing shows musically in a ol’ punk rock band when I was probably 14 or 15. And so I always knew that [I was an Artist]. My dad used to take me to parties and would have me sing songs along with them. I’ve been doing that as long as I can remember.
“Some of my first memories are singing. But it took me awhile to realize that’s what I was going to do with my life. And then the visual art came even later. Like I was doing art for my records and stuff, but it wasn’t until I had been making music for quite awhile that I started pursuing that more, like with visual stuff. And then it took me awhile to call myself an artist because I thought that was kind of pretentious when I was younger. And I thought that that if I just doodle and make songs, that doesn’t make me an artist.
“As I got older and started to learn more about the world and did some traveling and stuff I realized that an artist is definitely what I am, because it’s my primary driving force. If I didn’t have to work a job to make money, I would just make art all day. In one form or another: either music or drawing or performance, ideas, like costume stuff.
“Yeah it took me awhile to call myself an artist. And then I just turned 31 this month on the 25th. When I turned 30 it was actually a pretty pivotal point, because I felt like when I was in my 20’s, I would tell people what I was up to, they would see what I was up to, and they’d be like ‘Oh yeah, enjoy it while you’re young’ – doing all this weird stuff, that’s fun and cool… But there was always like, ‘Enjoy it while you’re young!’ Like this is the thing that young people do, you know that these are just phases that people go through.
“When I turned 30 I was like I’m a grown man! Like this is the man that I am and I have worked my entire younger adult to this point, so when I turned 30 I really started to… I just decided, this is what I’m doing with my life, I’m not fucking around with it anymore. I’m not gonna try to do things like, ‘oh I have to do this ‘cause make a some money’. I mean of course I have to do that a little bit. But I’m tired of diverting my energy into things that aren’t exactly what I want to be doing. And the best way to potentially survive doing that is to fully invest myself in it.
“So what I did is put out my last record and did a full release show in a warehouse that was 100 tickets only. And it was a one-time performance that will never happen again. And didn’t allow anyone to bring in phones or document it at all, so it only happened in the moment. And it went really well. It sold out and people bought tickets. So that was a really big encouragement to me. Like I can do this, I can do big things. And it immediately started to take off. That was last June.
S16: Would you say that was the beginning of the Alien/Native Movement? Or was that something separate?
Andy: […] I do stuff under the Alien/Native Movement, and that’s like a collective thing. But for the first part of the Alien/Native Movement, it was kind of just me. And Sarah (Sitkin) had taken some pictures, and posted them saying it for the Alien/Native Movement and stuff. But yeah it was just like something that I started, with having something like what’s happening now more in mind for what it was going to be. But it just took some time for that to actually happen.
S16: What is her last name?
Andy: Sitkin. Her website is just www.SarahSitkin.com. And all her work’s on there. She takes photographs and does these amazing things that are like… They look like paintings or something. Because she builds, modifies… builds or constructs everything and takes a picture of it. Pretty much does all that just to take a picture of it.
“Yeah she did all the headpieces, and masks that were used were all her. And I mean she would talk to me about what I was looking for and stuff, but really she mostly is responsible for that. And she participated in the performances as well.
“It was December 2012 when [the Alien/Native Movement] started. It really was the culmination of a couple different things. […]when I was a kid I used make up fake languages and stuff and write them down, and would make fake brochures and manuals for things or groups and didn’t exist. And I had always been toying with that. And kind of always wanted, was like at first if nothing else, I could just make something like that up and then put out records, saying that this group put out these records or whatever, and I’m part of the group.
“But at first it wasn’t a group at all, it was just me. I went on a trip to stay with Sarah for a little while in Los Angeles for a couple months. And the only DVD or anything that was there was this collection of animated shorts by this Czech filmmaker named Jan Svankmajer. And I watched these a bunch to fall asleep to and they’re really incredible. And then immediately after that went on a trip to Europe and while I was killing time in Prague a friend of mine told me to check out this exhibit (and told me how blown away he was)… So I went to the thing by myself and walked through it. And there was a thing that I saw where he had taken taxidermy parts of real animals and put them together in different pieces to make new animals.
“So, there were like these stuffed versions of these fictitious animals that he had created. But then he also had these giant Encyclopedia entries where he laid everything out, like how they breed, where they live, just made up this animal. But make up everything, like all the scientific data on this creature. And like what it does, where it lives. I saw that, and was really moved by it and I thought to myself I should act on this idea that I have of making up this group. And just making it exist by saying that it exists.”
S16: Yes it really is, and has really taken off too.
Andy: It just started out as a fictitious sort of thing but that’s how you make things real, when you say they are real and act like they are real and do things to make it real. And it’s real now. The Alien/Native Movement is a group of artists doing things in the world.
S16: Do you have a defining moment that sparked the thought to really do something about this vision you have for art, for Charlotte? And if you could go more into your vision too.
Andy: The vision with this was really to put more of what I wanted to see in the world. I could only sit around for so long and not see what I wanted in the world before I realized it was up to me to put it there. If I looked around and didn’t see this thing in the world, I figured I could either complain about it or get off my ass and put it in the world and then it would be there.
“It’s really just about manifesting reality, and making the world what you want it to be. But with Charlotte in particular, it was just like really the whole thing was to put more things artistically into the public environment and really to encourage other people to be fearless about their creative ideas and putting them into the world by doing that myself. And supporting, putting out the call to other artists that I feel are doing the same thing. And trying get them to come and do their thing.
“Yeah I’ve gotten some really amazing messages from people talking about how it sort of changed them, inspired them to start doing things again, or to be more serious about what they’re doing. It’s been really amazing to get that feedback.”
S16: Awesome! You mentioned Sarah Sitkin, one of the key people/friends involved the movement who helped make it what it’s become? Can you name maybe a few other people, and how they contributed?
Andy: Yeah for sure. The biggest ones outside Sarah and myself are Colin Massa. And he did tons of building and he built most of the altar that will be hanging at 525 all month. But it was for the closing ceremony. He built all the woodwork on that, and was really a creative force. Yeah, he did it all just because he wanted to do it. Local guy, he’s the one who had the army truck we drove around. He was huge.
“And my roommate Kyle Knight. He performs as The Emotron. He was huge as well, really instrumental in getting this place (the headquarters) to get it ready. He pretty much did everything to do this place. Has just been the glue in a big way, you know what I mean. Making sure people are eating and taking care. And also a huge artistic presence and huge working presence as far as getting stuff done. And both of them participated in almost all the performances. So those are the four that are most pivotal.
“And then there have been numerous other artists from Los Angeles, Nashville, Knoxville, Minneapolis, New York City, Georgia, Arizona… A bunch of people have come and participated for short times or long times. But yeah if I had to shout out some names, those four are the most pivotal. Myself, Sarah, Kyle, and Colin really were like the primary driving force of the month. We all collaborated a lot on the ideas performance wise.
“I mean a lot of the performance stuff I conceptualized, but then […] it would just grow and evolve as we would sit around and talk about it or be making stuff for it. And all these little ideas from everybody would be worked in. Like, ‘Oh that sounds good, let’s do this.’ Sometimes it was right before a show.”
S16: What is the biggest goal you have to see achieved for Charlotte and the arts? What do you envision, and why? And how do you believe that vision will be accomplished?
Andy: I want to see fearless, unapologetic creativity. Of course I would love for the arts to be more funded and things like that. But the whole point of me paying for all of this and just deciding to do this is to not just sit around and wait for something like that. I feel that holds a lot of people back. “Well, there’s no way I could do this. Or how would I do this?”
“If you want something badly enough, you just figure out how to do it. And you do it regardless of whether or not you’re getting grant or not or getting funded, because if its anything of important enough to you then you will figure out what you need to do to make it happen.
“You will figure out the sacrifices you need or whatever. You’ll find a way, and if you don’t find a way, ultimately to me, then that means it’s not that important to you. Because you would figure it out if it were. If it were something that kept you up at night and you couldn’t live a happy life without doing, which art and music very much are that for me. Like I have to do it. There’s no choice for me. I mean when I say “Art or Die,” “Create or Perish,” that started as something I would write on the wall to myself, to be like you have two choices. You can either do this, or become this unhappy ball of mess that doesn’t have a life worth living.
“So to me art or die are my two choices. I either make art or I cease to exist. That’s what I really want to see. I don’t care how accepted or funded art is in the city. Like that will go however it is going to go, no matter what. But I want to see people saying I want this in the world, I will put this in the world. And I think that is good for anyone.
“But yeah, that’s really what I would like to see. I want it to evolve however it would, like I don’t want to say there’s some ideal way that it should be. But just people being fearless about their ideas and their creative output and just doing it, and not worrying about what other people think about it, or anything else. Just doing it, following that drive if they have it.”
S16: What’s your overall feeling about the recent April residency at Snug Harbor? Do you feel you accomplished your goals and vision with it? And what are a few of your favorite moments?
Andy: Yeah I feel completely satisfied with it. It went almost exactly as I imagined it would. But it’s hard for me to think of it as just the residency because it was everything. We did street performances like every single day, and multiple other performance pieces. I curated two art shows. And yeah, it was just like a ton of stuff. So to me it was like one cohesive thing and the residency was just a big part of it.
“I approached Snug and Twenty-Two about doing it. I was like I want to do a residency and curate the art show because they’re right next door. And when they both said April was a good month (this was like 6 months ago or something) I was like I’ve had this idea, I’m going to use that as the foundation to do this art offensive on the city, and just like every single day be in the streets making sure that it’s happening. And a bunch of other people too do their own thing in conjunction with it.
“Like four performance artists from Detroit came down and did totally separate things but saying they were part of the Alien/Native Movement and invited all the collaboration and stuff because it was a little too much for one person to try to pull off. And it wouldn’t have been as effective without all that other input.
“Yeah but to answer your question though, it’s hard to pick an exact moment to highlight because they were all really good to me. But honestly the biggest highlights were seeing people like Colin and Kyle and Sarah even putting in all this hard work for literally no money, no monetary compensation whatsoever, just because they believed in it. And there were small moments of seeing them in a moment where I felt they were really feeling it, being exalted. In these little moments out in public doing something and seeing them get sort of repaid in a way that was just like pure satisfaction and fulfillment, was one of the really beautiful things.
“To be someone who had an idea that the end result was that, just to see them getting a return on all the hard work they put in, by having an experience that was intangible, that you can’t buy with money. You know, you can’t buy those things. So to see that, those were really the best moments, and us growing together as a family, and it being obvious that we’re all going to be chained to each other for the rest of our lives, because we did this thing that we all worked really hard to pull off, and that we’ve all been satisfied and fulfilled by I think.”
S16: What’s next in motion for the Alien/Native Movement? Do you guys have any other big plans? Will you be speaking publicly about what you have in mind doing next?
Andy: The plan is just to keep doing what we’re doing, and some of that will will involve scattering to the breeze a little bit because everyone lives in different places. I have a lot of personal artistic endeavors that I’m going to take off on. And honestly anytime I’m doing something it will be something claimed by the Alien/Native Movement. That’s the way it is, you know. And I feel like some of the other artists will be doing the same thing. But we’ll be doing plenty of stuff, street performance stuff.
“Right now just trying to figure out some life stuff on a personal level and resting after April. There was a lot of creative output and it feels like it’s time to recharge. Although I have been working on music quite a bit now because I wasn’t working on music at all during that. I was just playing a bunch of material that I’d already done, so that’s the one creative outlet that I wasn’t really exploring during April. I was just showcasing what I’d already done and so now I rested for like two days. And then yesterday I was find something to do, I got this stuff I want to do. So I’ve just been doing that.”
S16: What are some key quotes and slogans by the movement used to promote the ideas behind it?
“Art or die”
“Create or perish”
“Make art or cease to exist.”
“I want this in the world, and I will put this in the world.”
S16: Ok final question. If you could say one thing most with your life? To Charlotte? What would it be?
Andy: Create or perish.
Artists are the inventors of ideas, the creators of the new and the ones who think outside the box. However they are those in the community who are often the most stigmatized and underfunded, limiting their creative output.
The Alien/Native Movement, art for the public, could not be more critical to the growth and life of Charlotte culture. Similar war is already spreading to other cities throughout the country. So many vibrant cities that we enjoy as tourists, like Boston, L.A. and New York are cities that allow freedom for street art, enabling artists, musicians, poets and performers to hit the streets with their art for the world. Tourism equals profit; if we want that, then let’s go get it.
The world needs art. Without it, artists like Andy the Doorbum, Sarah, Colin, Kyle and even myself could not survive. Self-expression is an essential part of being human. Expression is also how change happens. And what is art and music but honest expression, individual unique views of the world?
This highly influential movement carries with it a refreshing air of enlightenment. It was honestly mind-blowing, the many performances of art and music I was fortunate enough to witness. The people are being inspired to rise and become who they genuinely are, and be freed to live out the purpose they live for as artists: without restriction, limitation, or fear.
Ask yourself questions similar to the ones Andy so often asks during his performances: “What do you want most in the world? And what are you willing to do to go get it? Make it happen. It is up to you. Create your destiny. Create or perish.”
The Alien/Native Movement:
Andy the Doorbum:
The Emotron (Kyle Knight):
Resident DJ Justin Aswell: