NADJA SAYEJ: VIDEO BLOG QUEEN TAKING THE ART WORLD BY AMBUSH

TWO YEARS AGO: NADJA SAYEJ IS AIMLESSLY BOUNCING AROUND TORONTO’S ART WORLD—A HAPPY,  ECLECTIC SCENE THAT WAS NOT MUCH BIGGER THAN PEORIA, ILLINOIS’.  SHE WAS RESTLESS, A FORMER CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOLER WHO WAS NOW A BUDDING CULTURE REPORTER FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL. FLITTING FROM OPENING TO OPENING, SHE WAS WRITING ABOUT GOING OUT, PLAYING DRESS-UP, AND MADE-UP THURSDAY STYLES-TYPE TRENDS LIKE “STALKERAZZIS” AND “GALLERAGES”.
SHE DECIDED TO COVER A FUNDRAISER FOR C MAGAZINE ON VIDEO. SHE GOT A CAMERA MAN, A MIC, AND STARTED TAPING OUTSIDE THE BIRCH LIBRALATO GALLERY IN TORONTO. A “VLOG” WAS BORN.
SAYEJ IS THE HOST AND FRAZZLED BRAINS BEHIND ARTSTARS*, A MEGA-DIY YOUTUBE SERIES WHERE SHE INTERVIEWS IN UNDER FIVE MINUTES ART STARS, THEIR GROUPIES AND THE PEOPLE WHO GO TO GALLERIES JUST FOR THE BOOZE. BRUCE LABRUCE, JOHN WATERS, TONY CONRAD HAVE ALL BEEN FEATURED. SO HAVE EVA & ADELE, THE BALD PERFORMANCE ARTISTS, AND A TINY GERMAN MAN IN A LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD OUTFIT SAYEJ MET OUTSIDE THE BASED IN BERLIN EXHIBITION.  THE SHOW IS AN EQUALIZER. SAYEJ TREATS EVERYONE LIKE THEY’RE STARS OF THEIR OWN DOMAIN. SHE’S A HYBRID BETWEEN LESLIE HALL AND LAUREN EZERSKY,  INTERVIEWING BRAND NAMES AND UNKNOWNS WITH THE SAME MIX OF WONDERMENT AND EXUBERANCE.
ON HER FIRST VIDEO, SHE WAS CLUELESS ON CAMERA. SHE WORE TYPICAL ART CHICK REGALIA—BLUE CAT LADY EYEGLASSES, MESSY HAIR, AND A SECONDHAND POLYESTER SWEATER—AND SHYLY BANTERED WITH SUBJECTS. AFTER 59 EPISODES, SHE’S GOTTEN MORE ADVENTUROUS. THE CLOTHES HAVE GOTTEN WACKIER, SO HAVE THE QUESTIONS. THE FORMULA IS NOW “PLAN, EDIT, SHOOT, EXPLODE!” HER INTERVIEW WITH TONY CONRAD IS A GEM, A ONE-MINUTE POWDER KEG OF AWKWARDNESS, PERFORMANCE AND UNPREDICTABILITY.
SAYEJ TALKED TO DIRTY ABOUT THE SHOW’S START, WHAT SHE WAS THINKING WHILE INTERVIEWING TONY CONRAD, AND WHAT IT’S LIKE BEING A CANADIAN IN BERLIN.
TEXT Erik Maza
PHOTOGRAPHY Chloé Richard

 

 

DIRTY: WHEN YOU SET UP THE CAMERA OUTSIDE BIRCH LIBRALATO GALLERY, DID YOU THINK, ‘I’M GOING TO START POSTING THIS STUFF ON YOUTUBE’? OR DID YOU THINK IT WOULD BE A ONE-OFF?

Nadja Sayej: Posting it on YouTube was not a priority—I was living in the moment and thought to myself, “Maybe we’ll make this a monthly thing and sell it to a TV station like Bravo.” Ryan [Edwards, her video editor] wanted to call the show “The Art Chick.” I opted for ArtStars*.

 

D: YOU HADN’T DONE ANY BROADCASTING BEFORE. HOW DID YOU SHOOT IT?

NS: Totally done on the fly. I was nervous on camera. I was one of those writers not used to speaking in front of large crowds. The first few minutes of the episode I am covering my face laughing. Then I start to loosen up and go in there for the kill. One of my friends Joost von Joost from Chlorophorm TV makes fun of me and says the word “Destroy” really slowly, extending the microphone out. But I don’t put words in anyone’s mouth. And another thing: I got gay stylists to dress me because after watching the first episode, my first thought was: “Good God. What am I wearing? No wonder I’m single, just look at me.” So I needed a makeover and they were like, “Well, you got tits so we might as well show them.” That’s how I came out of my writer’s shell, so to speak.

 

D: THE FIRST INTERVIEW OF YOURS I SAW WAS WITH TONY CONRAD. HE WAS ON THE VERGE OF DRUNK AND CLUELESS AND IT MADE FOR ENJOYABLY UNCOMFORTABLE VBLOG WATCHING. THE REST OF THEM ALSO SEEM TO DELIGHT IN THEIR AWKWARDNESS, MAINLY BECAUSE THEY’RE SO ON THE SPOT. HOW MUCH PLANNING GOES INTO EACH EPISODE?

NS: I can plan all I like; I have a notebook with graph paper for this exactly. I plan every question, every shot, the whole adventure. And then, something takes over. That’s how ArtStars* is both entertainment and nontraditional web-TV, Gonzo journalism. I plan A, go in, do A, and then me and the camera man are like: “Well, we’re here. We did what we were supposed to. Now let’s have fun.”

 

D: HOW DID THE CONRAD INTERVIEW HAPPEN?

NS: With Tony Conrad, I told the organizers I was coming. I was really looking forward to interviewing him because he played at this festival called Electric Eclectics in Meaford, Ontario the year before and I was standing there front row. I thought to myself, “Now this guy is really creative, really uninhibited. And he’s older than my dad. Wow.” So when he came to town, I gave the organizer folks from Pleasure Dome in Toronto a heads up we were coming, I approached Conrad at halftime and started chatting and sat on his lap. And the moment he started yelling at me, I didn’t know if he was joking or not. After a few seconds, I felt like he was not joking. Then I looked at his hands and saw the drink. I thought, “Oh no, don’t tell me he’s a dad with a drinking problem.” My instinct was to get out. Fast. I felt wounded by that one. The first thing I did was rush into the washroom to collect myself and replay what happened. I cried, washed my face, went outside and the camera man, Jeremy, was standing there, laughing. “I guess we need a vacation huh?” he asked, with the lens pointed at me. All I could do was nod.

 

D: WHAT WAS GOING ON THROUGH YOUR HEAD WHEN YOU WERE INTERVIEWING HIM? WAS HE ACTUALLY DRUNK OR WAS HE JUST PULLING AN ELIZABETH TAYLOR AT THE GOLDEN GLOBES MOMENT?

NS: From my understanding, he could have been drunk, or acting. Conrad is a professor in Buffalo and he is around a lot of young people. He could have just been pressing  my buttons—a really good actor, or artist. Or he could have just been on meds, drunk, or just tired. But as you see in the episode, he is slurring his words, unless that’s all a part of the act. The Tony Conrad episode, the Kriistina Lahde episode and the Mercer Union episode were all shown at Peak Gallery in Toronto for a solo show called “The Three Worst Episodes.” Good things come from bad episodes. I’m not saying “go around and raise hell” but be bold, brave and fearless.

 

 

D: THE GOAL OF THE VLOG IS WHAT, TO ENTERTAIN? TO INFORM?

NS: ArtStars* is the new art criticism. In the age of the comment army, the new art criticism keeps up with the other critics—the commenters. Most of the comments underneath articles are usually way more interesting than the actual content. I’m becoming that commenter in the actual episodes. The goal of the show is to have fun with breaking the art world script: Thin gallerinas in black pointed heels and pencil skirts. Dealers with polished, florescent smiles. And artists who bathe in filth for credibility. Art openings, to me, are a theater of the absurd.

 

D: MUCH LIKE LAUREN EZERSKY, PART OF THE CHARM OF THE SHOW IS THAT YOU DON’T SEEM LIKE AN INSIDER. YOU SEEM LIKE AN OVERJOYED INTERLOPER. ARE YOU A FAN OR A CRITIC? ITS HARD TO TELL IN THE CONRAD INTERVIEW IF YOU’RE KIND OF AMUSED OR EMBARRASSED FOR HIM?

NS: I’m Canadian, so when I think of fashion television, I think of Jeanne Beker, not Lauren Ezersky or whoever she is. I am a critic. I’m just really good at hiding it.

 

D: HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THIS?

NS: It was April 2009 and I walked into the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto to see the show of a friend, John Bride, and thought to myself, “It would be so much easier if I just used a video camera. Writing takes so much time.” I had an editor, Micah Toub from the Globe and Mail once tell me that the adventure, the hunt, has been so much of what I do, and that I shine outside of typical journalistic constraints, so I just ran with it. I set up an episode at the Birch Libralato Gallery in Toronto—it was a C Magazine fundraiser—got a camera man, Jeremy Bailey, and called a friend, Ryan Edwards, from Catholic high school, who was a video editor. I called him and asked, “How do I talk on camera?” And he said, “I don’t know. I’m a video editor. But when you’re done with the tape, give it to me and I’ll edit it.” Then an hour after I gave him the tape, he texted me and said, “This shit is gold!” I was happy.

 

D: DID YOU STUDY ART CRITICISM OR JOURNALISM?

NS: I wish there was an art criticism program. At OCAD [Ontario College of Art & Design], I studied painting and film-making. At Ryerson, I studied journalism. Journalism is awesome. It’s my mission in life. I love it. But I merge the two: art and journalism. ArtStars* is both—and one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received is from the German/British art collective Artists Anonymous who said, “what you’re doing is so far out there, that it becomes art again.”

 

D: HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO PRODUCE THE EPISODES?

NS: Depends. Sometimes nothing, sometimes a lot. Depends on which art celebrity we’re chasing down in what country at what event. In terms of actual finance, I’d say John Waters at the Venice Biennale, just because Venice is an expensive city to be in for one week. In terms of psychological costliness, the Cyprien Gaillard episode was the most expensive. It took the most out of me and the response was overwhelmingly huge. Even New York art critic Jerry Saltz ranted and raved about it. I got an incredible amount of criticism for that episode and I find that incredibly fulfilling.

 

D: IS THAT HOW IT USUALLY HAPPENS, CHASING DOWN A CELEBRITY OR DO YOU ARRANGE WITH THE FLACKS?

NS: Depends. With Eva & Adele, we just simply ran into them at ViennaFair, and ended up doing an interview with them. They are Berlin artists, so it’s kind of funny that I go all the way to Vienna to interview them, considering we both live in Berlin. With John Waters, I wrote the PR team weeks in advance for that one. In fact, I was told the day before my flight that he was going to attend a certain press conference one day after my flight. So I changed my flight to make sure I caught him. And I did. Knocked that one off my list.

 

D: CAN YOU MAKE ANY MONEY VLOGGING, OR DO YOU RELY MAINLY ON FREELANCING?

NS: Making money is fun. But making money off of a vlog, where you provide free content, is especially interesting because it works in nontraditional ways. It’s not like, “Here’s my website, buy a banner.” Or even, “sponsor an episode.” The episodes are an advertisement for my writing career. And my teaching career. People see my episodes and invite me to talk at universities (I’ve taught at NYU Berlin), people invite me to write “personality pieces” for their magazines, and I also host talks myself, too. We made money throwing monthly ArtStars* dance parties in Toronto at Double Double Land, selling merch, hosting panel discussions and I still run a party there called Press Pass at this bar called the Press Club.

 

 

D: IT SEEMS IN THE FIRST VIDEO THAT THE SASS WAS THERE, BUT AS YOU’VE DONE MORE OF THEM, YOU’VE GOTTEN MORE ADVENTUROUS, NOT JUST WITH YOUR INTERVIEWS BUT WITH YOUR OUTFITS. THIS IS THE FASHION ISSUE OF DIRTY, SO DO YOU DRESS FOR THE CAMERA, OR ARE THE OUTFITS YOUR REGULAR GOING OUT WARDROBE?

NS: Joshua Shier and Porcelaine Desire, both Torontonians, helped style the show in the first year of ArtStars*. Now, I handle it all myself. I shop at Vintage clothing stores, mostly. I do not only dress for the camera, but for the 69% of our viewers, who are men. It’s psychology.

 

D: THE VLOG STARTED OUT IN TORONTO, AND NOW YOU’RE IN BERLIN. WHY GERMANY?

NS: I had never been to Berlin before I moved here. Crazy, right? I was in Finland and Iceland last summer, the first time traveling in 10 years, and when I returned to Toronto after seeing two great countries I said, “I’m done.” I picked Berlin by pointing to a map on my wall, closing my eyes and opening them on wherever my finger landed. It was Berlin, and I haven’t looked back.

 

D: WHAT’S THE EXPERIENCE BEEN LIKE OF BEING A CANADIAN IN GERMANY? THERE’S PROBABLY TWICE AS MUCH LEATHER, AND AS MANY SMALL MEN IN LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD OUTFITS?

NS: Germany is tough, strait-laced and green. I am afraid to smile. It uses art as a prince to show off to their glorious empire. The Germans love their art, love to experiment, build on histories and remain unafraid in the eye of defeat. The difference is that people are not as bitchy in Berlin, but I’m often found speaking broken English just to get by in conversations. The art scene in Toronto is very small, like a dysfunctional orphanage trapped inside of a church with exhaust fumes seeping through the mosaic windows. Toronto is a very provincial city, and that mentality bleeds onto its creative producers. I found people started listening to me the second I left. As they say, “No man is a value in his home country.” Now they want me back. Big surprise.

 

D: DO YOU PLAN TO STAY IN BERLIN FOR A WHILE, OR ARE YOU PLANNING ON MOVING SOON?

NS: Depends on who I fall in love with.

 

D: CURRENTLY YOU ARE RAISING MONEY TO HELP SECURE THE FUTURE OF THE PRODUCTION OF ARTSTARS*.  HOW CAN ONE DONATE?

NS: Here! http://www.indiegogo.com/ArtStars

 

D: WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF ARTSTARS*?

NS: To continue, to grow, to kick ass, write three books—first will be ArtStars* the Star of the Art World by Nadja Sayej, about the phenomenon, produce a documentary film, continue to throw events, consult, write, review, travel and produce a series of DVDs. I have a business plan.

 

D: TELL US A DIRTY SECRET.

NS: I have never had anal sex.

 

 

ARTSTARSTV.COM

ARTSTARS TV ON YOUTUBE

 

 

 

 






Desarrollo Web / Web Development Shop Bicycles, Accessories, Bike parts