James Yeh on Greece, Sherri Hay, Marco Brambilla and Jonas Mekas

James Yeh in my East Village Apartment, NYC 2008

I really can't remember how I first met James Yeh. It may have been at a reading at Melville House, or it may have been at these big art parties I used to throw for artists and writers at the Chelsea Hotel... either way, James captured my attention with his dry sense of humor, matter-of-fact tone of voice and ability to integrate fine art into the writerly Brooklyn scene with the beautifully designed, beautifully curated and always interesting; Gigantic Magazine.

I tried to do a video chat with James, who is currently in Greece working on his novel, but due to my total last-minute meltdown over some LED lights for a fiber optic fur I was rigging (#madgeniusproblems), plus a bad head cold, I had to cancel our video session. He was so kind to do the interview via email... which is awesome, so read the interview below and watch some of James Yeh's favorite experimental videos!


E: How do you feel about being in Greece?

JY: …Happy? …Relaxed? Things that are impossible to feel in New York? Though nowhere, of course, is perfect. We’ve been getting phone calls from people speaking English with Indian accents asking about a computer. There are more ants here than it seems in the US. But yeah, it’s important not to get over how lucky and appreciative I am to be here.

E: What's the first thing that happened where you were like "Woah I'm in Greece!"?

JY: It was probably something to do with the sheep, or the goats, or maybe the long-lashed donkey that was tied up outside the mini-market.

E: What on earth are you doing there?

JY: I’m here for a writing residency, obliquely through the Center for Fiction in Manhattan, where I was a fellow last year. Ostensibly I am completing the novel I started six years ago. I also go on walks with my girlfriend.

E: What's the Greek film scene like? Do you know of anyone who did anything notable in experimental film or video art who came from there?

JY: I’m sadly (and completely) unaware. The closest thing to Greek experimental film we have here is the old TV with Greek cable that we haven’t bothered to watch.

E: Are you into experimental film?

JY: Definitely. Though I have to admit I’m not terribly knowledgeable. Part of this is simply an excuse to hang out again with you.

E: (!!!!!)
E: Who are some of your most favorite experimental filmmakers or video artists?

JY: I’m a fairly recent fan of Jonas Mekas and Mike Kelley. I also really loved the installation that was first presented at a beautiful church downtown, I’m forgetting the name; now it lives in the elevator of the Standard Hotel, of all places. Civilization by Marco Brambilla..(video below). Did you see it? 

E: I hadn't, but I just watched it and... dayum!! Beautiful, intricate and also disorientating...

Marco Brambilla is a Milan-born, New York-based video collage and installation artist, known for his elaborate recontextualizations of popular and found imagery, which Vanity Fair praises as “critiques and masterpieces of visual overload.”

JY: There’s also, of course, Christian Marclay’s The Clock, which I’ve now gone to see twice. But those last two are things I can’t imagine trying to do in fiction. They are perhaps best left being admired (and a little feared). La jetée is probably my most favorite experimental film ever.

E: Does visual work (of any kind) ever inspire your writing?

JY: Definitely. I was very inspired, for instance, by the Jonas Mekas videos that I found from your EG post earlier this month. The video I liked the best was this one (Cinema Is Not 100 Years Old), where he’s dancing around in a funny hat as the word “terrorist” flashes onscreen. Later, because he is at home, his son runs around behind him, hitting a ball with a racket. There’s something so beautiful, funny, and natural about it all. His idea of his life as “moving ahead,” “occasionally see[ing] brief glimpses of beauty” is amazing to me.

I’ve also been interested in comics since, really, I was an adolescent, but now, more seriously. Particularly in way tone and pacing can be done. I am consistently inspired by the work of Gabrielle Bell, though some of that is due to her writing, dialogue, and pacing, which I find impressive. I was recently blown away by Chris Ware’s Building Stories. Really blown away. To see him doing that is almost discouraging. But that’s good, too. It puts things in perspective.

E: Do you ever showcase experimental film or video art through Gigantic?

JY: We recently featured work by artist Sherri Hay that included video here.  A few years earlier we hosted a preview to Paul Willerton's Little Big Cremaster 3, as well as the full version of Little Big Cremaster 2, both of which are series based on Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle. The link is here. We’d like to do more.

Video: Wish You Were Here—Park by Sheri Hay (2007)
E: Remember when we made that video a long time ago, and you talked about Jeff Goldblum? Are you still a big fan of his?

 JY: Haha, I do remember that. I’ll always remember Jeff Goldblum for answering that phone in Annie Hall.

Want to give any shout outs of any kind?

JY: Na. Thank you for taking the time to interview me!

James Yeh is a writer & editor living in BK, NY.  He has recent work in NOON, Fence, Tin House, Vice, PEN America and is a founding editor of . Yeh is also a 2011 Center for Fiction Fellow... and now he's chilling in Greece.

Read some James Yeh here on Everyday Genius! 

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