ALL GIRLS TO THE FRONT:
A conversation with Sally Spitz and Christine Wang
on the staying power of their 2013 performance
How to Have a Wet Dream.
by Audra Wist
I heard about Sally Spitz and Christine Wang independently of one another from various people but always in the same context of being incredible women. In February, during a talk Christine gave, I saw a still from the performance they did together in 2013 called “How To Have A Wet Dream” at the now defunct Control Room in Downtown LA as part of The Privilege Show. It was so politically incorrect — downright wrong, hilarious and gross — that I had no choice but to be impressed by the honesty and forthrightness. Two implicated women slinging racist “anti-feminist” insults about each other in front of an audience was bad in the best way. Sally Spitz is an artist and the front woman for the band French Vanilla and Christine is an artist and activist working with Critical Resistance LA and represented by Night Gallery. Listen to Sally’s lyrics in French Vanilla’s “Carrie” or look at Christine’s Gaseous Abstraction. You will find that in both of their arenas they possess an ability to get directly to the issue that is uncanny and uniquely theirs, the performance a cornerstone example of how to get it done together: absolute trickers in accomplice on how to have a “wet dream.” I met Sally and Christine in late March at the faux-baroque Millennium Biltmore, my idea of a phony beautiful place to discuss ugliness and its power in redirecting our attention to important issues.
Audra Wist: I found the performance through the talk Christine gave in Claremont, but I just saw a still image of it. I looked it up that night and thought, wow, this is fucking incredible. And I didn’t know if it got a lot of press when it first came out. Did it get a lot of press?
Christine Wang: No, not really.
Sally Spitz: Catherine Wagley did a piece on The Privilege Show in LA Weekly.
AW: Oh, okay, it just seemed that, this is something that couldn’t — or well, it could physically happen today — but people would freak out today if that happened. Did people freak out whenever you guys did it?
SS: I think people thought it was dope and we practiced a lot and really prepared for it.. and we thought it was good, so I guess people are just kind of behind.
CW: It was packed.
SS: Yeah, Control Room was packed that night.
AW: Okay, so a lot of people came out to see the show but no one after the show came up and said “that was triggering” or “that was offensive?”
SS: I think it got a couple of thumbs down on YouTube cause people search for “wet dream” - it’s called How To Have A Wet Dream - so everyone who is searching for sex stuff on YouTube, it’ll come up through tags. So, it ends up getting 13,000 views or something like that. But we just documented it ourselves. We didn’t do a lot of promotion for it.
CW: Control Room did a good job promoting the event.
AW: I wasn’t in LA at the time, but I remember seeing the flyer floating around afterwards.
CW: It was great. Control Room got everybody to donate to a Kickstarter to pay for a full-page Artforum ad and the show is called The Privilege Show, so I just thought it was a brilliant mash-up of crowd funding and the highest echelon of art journalism.
SS: And the more money you donated, the bigger your name was on the ad.
AW: Oh! See, I saw a lot of names on there and I thought damn, there’s a shit ton of people in this show. Are they all in this?
SS: Yeah, they were all donors. So, my parents were in Artforum, which is crazy.
AW: Just to reiterate, it seems so strange that this only happened three years ago. And in terms of what both of you do, in different ways… Christine’s use of language and Sally, your lyrics and performance… I guess I should preface this whole thing with that I’m working on this piece that deals with badness - badness as directness or a particular honesty, so this fits into the context of that. And that’s why I wanted to do the interview, for selfish reasons, but also because I don’t see that kind of work happening now and I wonder why it isn’t happening and wanted to know if you both had any insight. Why do you think there isn’t this type of directness or sort of vulnerability or a willingness to be “bad?” To say those things that everyone is thinking or that we all say behind closed doors or in our heads, and exorcise it?
CW: Wait, so you’re saying our performance was bad?
AW: No! It had badness! The whole notion of badness is good, I think. I think we need badness to confront those things directly and be super upfront.
SS: See I thought you meant bad as in untrained, which we are. We were trying to act and do this kind of dramatic performance and it’s bad in that it’s not very professional.
AW: Right, but that’s the whole thing! That’s the thing that art can do; protect us from being conned. So, the deskilled-ness of it is actually the truth of it.
CW: Are you talking about bad as in @badgirlriri or bad the opposite of good?
AW: Bad as… something that is an unfavorable opinion or an unfavorable way to go about something or something that’s —
CW: Like we shouldn’t have done it.
CW: That we shouldn’t have twerked. That we shouldn’t have talked about race.
SS: Or we shouldn’t have shown really shitty videos.
CW: With little girls getting raped… well, it was drawn. There were no actual little girls harmed in the videos.
SS: Right, it was just hentai porn. Andrea Fraser bought one of those shirts we made. Mark Verbioff bought one. We got all of these Van Halen t-shirts from Goodwill —
CW: And we ironed on these drawings of small girl-child in pigtails lifting up her skirt and showing her hairless cameltoe. We originally asked a temporary tattoo company to make temporary tattoos of them and they wouldn’t, they refused. So, we had to print our own t-shirts.
SS: We had to DIY it.
CW: We were censored.
AW: Yeah, so this is what I’m talking about, you “shouldn’t have” —
CW: Oh! So, you’re talking about being un-PC.
AW: Yes! Yeah, so many things that are reaching the news, or well, at least in an academic or art or literary context, people start going down this scary road where 800 people come out of the internet woodwork and start policing everything. Like, you can’t do this, you can’t say that, and it shuts down any real conversation about it. I feel like the way you did it... you did it in an irrefutable way of cutting to the chase that couldn’t be denied, partially because humor was involved.
CW: What do you think the point of our performance was? If we were cutting to the chase, what did you get out of it?
AW: It was talking about the phoniness of all of those roles and the time we spend trying to sift through and categorize all of our bullshit, showing the ugliness. What do I come up against? It cut the bullshit and pleasantries.
CW: The bullshit of female solidarity?
AW: No, not female solidarity... because that was actually the benefit: having two women up there having this public, very raw, yet staged conversation, together. Repeat your question.
CW: If we cut to the chase, where did it bring you? Where did we go? What was the point?
AW: I’m trying to think of the initial reaction I had. It felt honest. To me, it almost felt like a drag performance. Not in a formal sense, but in the sense that drag wears a costume, you create a character and react in a certain way to try to exorcise the weight of those honest things and feelings that come from a “bad” place, that people experience or feel towards other people…
CW: We were in drag...
SS: Yeah, we found some zebra print dresses at Goodwill.
AW: I’m not even talking about the dresses, but the point was that you took on characters —
SS: In order to be able to say certain things. We were trying to get into our deepest self-hatred and figure out what we push up against, as women, and even in our friendship, we still have these moments of animosity and tension.
CW: I have nothing but love for you, Sally! This is the first time I’ve heard of any of this!
SS: Oh, god. Christine... I’m just trying to be real right now. Just kidding, that’s not true. I don’t have animosity towards Christine. But we just have animosity towards other women, you know? Even though we’re both feminist identified… we had a mutual friend that we both had a really negative experience with. She was, you know, a “pro-sex feminist” and then she was very much a betrayer and backstabbed us. And we both had these bad feelings and the performance helped us get through the experience of being hurt by someone who called themselves a feminist.
CW: She said she was our friend!
AW: Maybe that’s it too. I’ve been writing these... [to Christine] have you been to the performances I’ve done recently? The screaming ones?
CW: No, sounds really nice though.
AW: There’s a lot of shit in there about people I’ve come up against, women and men, really. But women more so, recently. Especially with the domme shit and all that craziness - people’s roles and politics and ethics surrounding that. So, maybe that was part of my reaction to the performance - it was just a jolt feeling I had. I go by my knee-jerk reaction and when I watched it, I felt excited and I felt good about it being in the world because it felt honest in its ugliness. This leads into my other questions, trying to define these vague things like “badness,” so what now makes a good or bad artwork? How do you come up against something? Art is so conservative now, so how do you run up alongside of it or come up against it? [long silence] Are these questions too insane? I get very insecure when I do these interviews.
SS: No, not at all. I feel like I’m not as in the art world as Christine, feeling like what I do and things that I want to say in a performance or do live aren’t necessarily “art.” I participate in punk music because I feel like there’s more of an open, accepting community, and it’s anti-capitalist. With the art world, I feel like I have to put on a persona and go to openings to be all prissy. Christine is better at art world stuff.
CW: I think that the un-PC-ness is coming out. Women can be assholes, too, you know? Look at Hillary Clinton. And then the un-PC thing is really biting us in the ass right now. I think part of Trump’s popularity is that he is not PC, so the same relief that you felt when you heard us be un-PC, I think a lot of other people feel that relief when they hear Trump be un-PC.
SS: Yeah, he’s able to speak in a way that caters to a particular audience that makes them feel good.
CW: That’s part of the timeliness of this and fucking Hillary Clinton - “vote for me because I’m a woman” - is the most condescending way to appeal to young women, whereas Bernie Sanders is saying we need maternity care, we need to close the wage gap… it’s very specific. Saying we need to get rid of student debt... these very specific ways that he can help women — not just any women, but working class women — because the classism and inequality hurts poor POC women the most. Because women who want to take care of their kids, who aren't making as much money, where the fuck are they going to get that money? And Hillary doesn't talk about any of that stuff, not in a sincere way. I think, for me, that’s why that performance could have a moment again in 2016, three years later.
AW: Also, the reason why that was effective, and drawing the comparison between the way Trump uses language and you use language, the difference is obviously context, but also trusting that whoever is saying this is saying it in good faith. Or in other words, that you weren’t actually being racist and hateful. This is the biggest mistake people make with art right now - we tie too much of it together. I mean, the definition of art is artifice - it’s a representation of something else. And people jump to these crazy ideas based on a shitty idea of a politic. And with regards to Hillary Clinton using the “vote for me because I’m a woman” thing… I did an interview with Aiden Starr a bit ago and we ended up talking about the James Deen thing, where Stoya came out and accused him of rape via Twitter and her [Aiden’s] stance on it was rape is an humanist issue, rape happens to men and women, and her thing was in the context of “vote for me because I’m a woman” you could say “believe me because I’m a woman” is an equally flawed position, especially doing all this on Twitter…
CW: I think part of it is because for so long it was don’t believe me because I’m a woman. That’s what people are afraid of; they don’t want to go back to the point where no one believes you because you are a woman. It’s really hard.
AW: Yeah, it is. It is complicated. More complicated than people make it out to be. Speaking of which, I was just watching the Amy Schumer special on HBO at the Apollo and she talks about being a woman that talks about sex and how people slot her as a sex comic meanwhile men can do this and never get pigeonholed as such. Why do you think it is unfavorable for gals, — anyone other than a white dude — to talk about sex, race, woman-on-woman beef, etc now than three years ago? Why have things gotten so heated, specifically in an art context?
CW: People don’t talk about sex in art?
AW: I think there’s a lack of people addressing the hard questions around these issues, instead we skirt around and flirt with them.
CW: Ha-ha-ha. I know exactly why: because the art world is complicit in classism and racism and so it is not in any artist’s interest to fucking change the system that they benefit from.
AW: Right, so, is that why you [to Sally] go with music because there’s more space or more of an audience to confront those issues head on? The patrons of music aren’t necessarily rich white people.
SS: Yeah, David Bowie said that music has no future. He also said that Lorde was the future of music… so, anyways… I think at a certain level, like Chris Brown or something, someone getting mass exposure, opportunities; even though there are thousands of other people out there who could do the exact the same thing, better... music is chauvinist hierarchy. Punk music feels more explicitly about community, always working with a group, having a band. It feels better than the art world because I don’t have money.
SS: I don’t really feel comfortable in an immaculate white cube. I would rather be elsewhere. I listen to a lot of feminist music and it’s been a huge force in my life. I like a lot of female visual artists, but I feel like music hits you on a more visceral level. It’s direct [snaps fingers]. You don’t have to think about it. You can be at a show and feel that the energy and it is very different from an opening.
AW: They are goddamn funerals. It’s a wake - everyone wears black, everyone is afraid to gesture, standing quietly, congenial.
SS: Very prim.
CW: French Vanilla’s lyrics in that song Carrie are so fucking good.
AW: They are. I was going to bring that song in particular up.
SS: I really like that movie.
CW: The old one or the new one?
SS: Yeah, the one with Chloe MORE-etz.
CW: She’s sarcastic.
SS: Sissy Spacek, Brian De Palma.
CW: It was bold and it was bad for a long time. People thought it was bad.
AW: Yeah, it was kind of panned when it came out.
SS: It’s really incredible. The whole religious mother, very overbearing, and Carrie just wants to be like everyone else - I identified with her. When I was in high school, I just kinda wanted to be like everybody else, accepted. But then she also had this power - telekinesis - obviously, that’s not practical for us, but symbolized something else, a power within, something you already have.
AW: Funny you mention, I just got my lips done yesterday. They are super swollen right now - kinda housewives - and I was talking to my friend on the phone and I was saying how I didn’t really know why I got them done. I can’t really tell if it’s because I just broke up with two people and now I’m trying to be dateable or I actually just wanted the experience of face injections and bruising, a body mod thing. I would always get a piercing every one or two years or so, but I was over that, so I wonder if this was a replacement body pain experience. How much of my impulse as a gal is still wanting to fit in and how much of it is trying to change people’s perception? Or using the things that represent sameness to everyone else almost makes it more powerful or shocking when used in a different way. Looking like a housewife, blonde highlights, and then screaming my guts out about hating women or myself or some shit, that would be weird to watch and I can get behind that. You can use these things past their intended purpose.
CW: People want to fit in and be part of a group. Maybe that’s why it was so painful when our friend was mad at us because I thought we were part of a team.
SS: Me too.
CW: You know, recently, I’ve been Googling a lot of handbags online. I want a really fancy leather purse.
SS: You’ve always been Googling that.
CW: I have! And I want it so bad but it’s really tearing me apart.
AW: Well, what are you looking at? What’s on the list?
SS: Is it a Birkin?
CW: No, those are way too expensive.
AW: You can say it, whatever; I just spent a pretty penny putting some bullshit in my lips.
CW: OAD was featured on VOGUE.com yesterday and they had a bag that could fit my laptop and it’s only $565 and I’m like… I told [my boyfriend] about it and he said “What?! Don’t do that!” and then I realized that this meeting was at a fancy hotel and I was worried about being underdressed.
AW: Oh my god, no! But that’s what I’m talking about! See, I feel like I can like this shit because it’s partially fancy and also totally funny and fake in its fanciness - with this weird music and faux antiquing and plastic fucking wood siding. I don’t know, I think it’s fine. I have the same problems but we should approach it with humor. Think about the performance! That was the strength of it. There was a lightness to it. It was seriously funny because it’s so fucking true. Or it represents a truth.
SS: I heard that people who swear more in regular conversation are generally more honest.
CW: I heard that, too.
AW: Wow, really? That’s cool because I always felt weird about that. I drop “fuck” like every other word.
SS: I know, with strangers. Talkin’ about fuckin’.
CW: We’re just more honest.
SS: You know, deep dark shit.
CW: Truth tellers.
AW: In terms of being truth tellers in relation to badness, that’s what Nina Simone was so good at. She would stop if she heard someone talking and would call them out, she would ask people to join in, sing along, sometimes just a stare. She was great at being direct, curt and off the cuff.
SS: Yeah, she was pretty cool. If you act like you are a queen, then people will just have to treat you that way.
AW: Right, exactly.
SS: You know Ariana Grande, she says “I don’t want to walk, I want to be carried.”
AW: She said that?
SS: I don’t know. But she’s a princess who needs to be carried.
CW: We know what you Google.
SS: Lady Gaga, too. I heard she was really demanding. She wanted the best treatment in everything, very upfront about how she needed to be treated and now she’s where she is.
AW: By making demands.
CW: But what happens when everyone gets treated like a princess?
AW: Right, cause there’s a lot of that going on too. There was study conducted with music comparing lyrics from 60s pop music to the lyrics of today’s pop music, and back then the use of the words “we” and “us” and “you and I” were far more popular than today, and today it’s mostly just “I” and “me.”
CW: My paper.
AW: Right, I’m getting my shit. I’m better than everyone. I think about Nicki Minaj who I like, but who also does that. She says some impressive shit and then completely contradicts it the next minute. And that’s the kind of blurry line between artifice and politics.
CW: And isn’t the last line of Beyoncé’s new song “gonna get my paper” or something?
AW: It’s “best revenge is your paper.”
CW: Which is totally capitalist - capitalist individualism! And that’s what Trump followers subscribe to: I want to be rich, have a beautiful foreign wife, I wanna have a hair transplant, a very expensive hair transplant. My point is what is the cost? If I want it so bad and I’m willing to shit on other people to get it, isn’t that cost a little too high? Maybe I shouldn’t get that bag. Have to kill a cow. Carbon footprint is probably a lot. Speaks of individualism. Speaks to my highly educated taste. It’s not Michael Kors. MK would be too trashy.
SS: 100%. Seriously. I would not be caught dead.
AW: When I got to LA, I remember being really sad because I was going to a bunch of shows and was like wow, this stuff totally fucking sucks. And I got into a really heated conversation with one of my good friends who was working for an artist I didn’t like at the time, and I said if I walk into a gallery and I leave feeling more lonely than when I walked in, you are not doing your job. You are fucking not doing your job. And a lot of what it was reflecting capitalism while trying to criticize it, post-internet shit. It tries to be upfront about that to cover its ass. Like, oh, it’s “commenting” on capitalism or Amazon or whatever, but when is the thing you’re criticizing actually the thing itself? Where is that line? With your performance, there was a line drawn.
CW: You know where the line was drawn - it was that we were making jokes about ourselves.
SS: Yeah, it was about “I,” not you. Turned in on itself.
AW: You were directly implicated.
CW: I let Sally say really mean true things about me and Sally let me say really mean true things about her. I think that’s where the self-criticism came in. For me, that was the fun part, to be like “Sally’s parents bought her a car” and for Sally to be like “Christine’s parents bought her a house” - that was the real part for me and that was why it was in The Priviledge Show because we are all so fucking privileged. We're so privileged to have had that show, to be sitting here now eating delicious rosemary rolls in downtown LA, so lucky.
SS: Yeah, the self-awareness was really key in opening up the space to do that performance.
CW: I think that’s what Trump doesn’t have, self-awareness. Like, oh, my wife is a fucking immigrant. He never says that. He never says that he makes way more money than all of the people he’s speaking to, that his dad loaned him a million dollars. He’s not PC, but his not PC-ness is not directed at himself. It’s directed at vulnerable people.
SS: Are mail order brides a human rights violation? Can he just not talk about that? CW: We have to learn how to work together and work through conflict - talk about it - instead of having conflict and running away. We need different and more creative ways of accountability and justice.
You can follow SALLY SPITZ (@sallyspitz and @frenchvanillaband) and CHRISTINE WANG (@christinetwang) on Instagram.
AUDRA WIST is a writer, artist, and performer living and working in Los Angeles, CA originally from Pittsburgh, PA. Her work deals with narratives of representation in pop culture, vulnerability, power, extremes, and paradoxes. She has exhibited and performed at Wilding Cran Gallery, Ace Hotel Los Angeles, VIA festival, with her and her work also appearing on Vivid SiriusXM, Mindbrowse.com, Sang Bleu, Kink.com, Discipline Press, and BRKFST magazine. She is a BDSM professional and currently Autre magazine's sex editor-at-large conducting interviews and editorials. She studied at Carnegie Mellon University (BFA), Yale Norfolk, and UCLA (MFA).
@femaleguest and www.audrawist.com