Over the course of a night that may not soon be forgotten by those in attendance (and perhaps envied by those who weren’t), Tristene Roman transformed herself from a supportive observer to a full-blown performance artist. The happening was organized to celebrate the release of “The Golden Fool,” a compilation of poetry curated by Roman and Luka Fisher, and authored by the members of an informal Los Angeles-based collective of proudly outsider musicians, writers and visual artists.
It showcased live performances by many of the compilation’s contributors, but it was Roman’s – her first ever – that stole the night. Syringes, whippings, blood flow, and a general ambience of mania are just a few details involved in the poetic baptism that Roman experienced. A stylish video documentation of the night can be found online, offering an abbreviated taste of all that occurred during the night that shifted the paradigm of Tristene Roman’s life, which, among other topics, she describes throughout our conversation below.
Lev: How did “The Golden Fool” come about?
Tristene: Yeah. I fucking got dumped and I had to move back in with Luka Fisher. And I was in the process of drinking myself into oblivion; like all day everyday. I was at home and I can’t be alone when I am going through stuff like that. So my friend Pat Dead called me. We started off sober but we were on the phone for like six hours. He was getting more and more drunk and I was just listening to him. Then we got on the topic of The Golden Rule, because we somehow always end up talking about politics and society.
We were both like the The Golden Rule is bullshit. Treat others the way you want to be treated?
If I treated everyone the way I wanted to be treated I would be smacking everyone in the face. Because I like that shit. I think most people like that shit. I mean how many people that you know are in abusive relationships…or get themselves into the same fucked up situations over and over and over again because they are masochists. And it was while we were talking that we wanted to make a zine about this. But it was kinda like a joke because I can never get Pat to do anything with me and we were both drunk. Then I ran it by Luka and he was like “Great Idea. Get together and write it. And then we’ll handle the rest together.”
Lev: Was it always supposed to be a compilation?
Tristene: Originally it was just going to be Pat Dead and I. But we made up this ridiculous deadline and it took us two days to write the mission statement poem. So there was just no way that we could bust out like fifteen really well written poems and still meet our deadline. So then Luka, everyday, was like “How would you feel if I asked Sheree Rose or whoever to appear in the zine. So he did like most of the collecting of all the writers that were in there…Sheree Rose, Bob Flanagan, Ron Athey, Christopher Zeischegg, he grabbed some of your stuff. Then Luka introduced me to the Russian concept of the “Holy Fool”, which is basically a crazy person who either engages in shocking and unacceptable behavior or is so naive to how the world works that their actions and existence are a challenge to the social order. That idea coupled with our interest in masochism kind of guided the zine’s creation.
Lev: It kind of became a document for a lot of people that are part of this collective. Which is cool because it’s kind of a throwback to what the Surrealists were doing in the twenties. Everybody has their own thing and then sometimes they get together. It really is a tome of a lot of different voices. It seems like a lot of people other than Bob who’s obviously dead are people who are a part of this community. Big names too: Gitane Demone, Rev. Stephen Leyba, Sheree Rose, Ron Athey, Rich Ferguson and Hart Fisher…That kind of takes it from a zine of poetry to being a great compilation of old and new voices.
Tristene: Yes, we put our heroes in there because we were always wondering where our fucking Burroughs were; where are our people that are here to mentor us? So working with them has been incredible. By the time we were ready to print I wanted to back out. I didn’t think that I was even worthy to be in my own zine.
Lev: But it was too late because now you have a show to do. The zine is moving forward. Whenever Luka seems to get involved in something there’s no backing out. I think everything is kind of scary, but when you have to do it, you just have to face that fear and get through it. So you made the zine and it got into the MOCA bookstore and it got some press, but then you had to do the show. What did you have in mind when you were planning the event? Did you have an immediate vision for what you wanted it to be?
Tristene: Yeah, I did. Poetry readings are usually calm, and its been like that for too long. But where is the poetry that is insane? Events that make people ask what the fuck just happened to them.
Lev: What were some of the things that were happening that night that folks wouldn’t have expected to have happened? I didn’t even really know what to expect. I had an idea, but when I walked in it was like ten times more than I had expected.
Tristene: We only got people that were willing to adapt their poems into performance pieces because we wanted something visceral and we knew we’d get it if we just let our poets physically let out all the extreme feelings that go into their work.
So Pat Dead wanted to beat the shit out of himself and break things while reciting his poems. Then we had Christina Vasquez fisting a peanut butter jar while she read about eating ass. Then I was bleeding everywhere. We basically wanted to make it as extreme we could get away with. Everything we were doing was totally illegal. We had a full bar. We didn’t card anybody. We were at an illegal warehouse. We had live sex acts on our 20 foot stage: ass eating, blowjobs, etc. Kayla Tange burned all of her clothing off and was totally nude. And then we had my blood everywhere. Gabriel was pulling needles out of her face. And that was my first real performance. So it was like super intense for me. I am not used to being in front of a crowd.
Lev: Was it liberating to not just have your work put out but to literally bleed for your work?
Tristene: It was great. The only reason that I wanted to do my performance like that is that I have a reputation for getting really drunk and doing regrettable things: kicking doors in, getting kicked out of places, punching people in the face, engaging in abusive relationships. I am like, where is my outlet? How can can I keep doing this kinda stuff and have it be an acceptable thing? Then it came to me: performance art.
I was nervous so I got semi-drunk before I went on. I was screaming and I was bleeding and it was acceptable because I was on stage.
Lev: Did you get a similar rush?
Tristene: It was actually more intense because I had to actually think about it too and try and convey this pain that haunts me everyday. I wanted The Golden Fool as an event to be a glimpse of the circus inside my head.
Lev: There was also just this generalized sense of mayhem in there. There’s this idea of controlled chaos. Then at some point you cross a line and it turns into actual chaos. Your event walked that line the whole night. It didn’t feel safe, which is good and was probably intentional. It’s difficult to create a space that feels like a place where anything can happen. And anything almost did happen that night. I remember my friends and I walked in and people were sucking each others dicks in the rafters.
Tristene: We’re not here to bore you. We wanted to wake folks up and make them feel free to explore themselves. Anything you want to do, do it because we are. We want you to live your fantasies and feel alive even if that’s through pain or whatever. It’s like Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan’s idea of “fighting sickness with sickness”. I am fighting for my mental health.
Lev: Was it therapeutic? I am sure you’ve gone through a lot of different stages in trying to address your mental illness. Whether that be through medication, self-medication, self-harm or whatever else. Speaking broadly, there are a lot of things people do to cope. Because this was your first time it was a whole new feeling. Did you feel like this was a whole new way to ground yourself?
Tristene: Yeah. Definitely. I mean since The Golden Fool event I haven’t been so out of my mind like I usually am. I’ve been more put together. This is what I need to do. Drinking is a problem for me. Self-mutilation is a problem for me. Just generally abusing other people is a problem for me. I am trying to use my performances to deal with these problems.
Lev: So…it was listed as “The First Annual Golden Fool Amateur Hour”. Will there actually be another one? Have you already started to think about what the next Golden Fool happening will be?
Tristene: Yeah, we have. We came up with some wacky ideas. One of them involved staging an award show like the Oscars. That’s just an idea. We’re barely getting over this past one. It was really stressful.
Lev: So the zine was released in two editions. A standard golden edition and a deluxe edition. Could you tell me a little bit about the deluxe edition?
Tristene: The deluxe edition is limited to twenty five copies. Each copy features an original, collaborative painting by Daniel Crook and Luka Fisher plus a different handwritten poem written by me. Then there’s a special polaroid that accompanies each copy.
Lev: What’s the price tag?
Tristene: They cost $150. We surprisingly sold a few at The Golden Fool. Daniel and Luka both sell their work for a good amount of money.
Lev: So it’s really not that outrageous of a price if you think of it as an art object rather than a zine.
Lev: Were the pieces you wrote for the zine all new?
Tristene: It was all new. I know it’s so cheesy to say this, but when I was going through this past breakup the only thing that I could do was just write, write, write. So I would just get drunk and not eat and think that I was about to die and then I’d start writing. It was all so silly and dramatic. Those three pieces were all written within a couple weeks of each other and they were the only pieces that I’ve ever really edited. They are probably the poems that I’ve worked hardest on. I ran them by a few people that I really trust like Sheree to get their feedback. She’s like my art mom.
Lev: I’ve heard a lot of people say that about her in this scene. What does that mean to you, to have someone like her around consistently? She’s obviously inserted herself into this scene and vice versa. Not only have a lot of you embraced her, but she’s embraced this.
Tristene: It means a lot to me. Her career is amazing. What her and Bob did was incredible. But when I met her at Stories Books when she was doing a poetry reading at a RRose is a Prose, I had no idea who the hell she was or what she had done. But when she was reading I was like, that’s me at seventy. Everything she is saying is everything that I think. She had great style. She had pink hair and looked all cool. Luka met her then too. Afterwards we went up to her and were like, “I love you”, and then we grabbed lunch in Koreatown. Everything just unrolled from there. So I started off knowing her as a friend before I knew her whole background. Then seeing what she did for Bob, it was like I want her to do that for my sickness; if that even makes sense.
Lev: What do you hope that somebody might get from this? Outside of people that are already involved in this community?
Tristene: I want them to know that there aren’t really any boundaries. That you shouldn’t be afraid to be who you really are. There’s someone that we know that was afraid to be involved in a feminist project because it had the word pussy in the title. She felt like that was too provocative. That was a reality check for us that a lot of folks live in fear. Something like that shouldn’t even be shocking. It’s normal. People are weirder than they think they are. Our whole culture right now is very repressed. Everyone is afraid to make a fool of themselves. So The Golden Fool was all about making a fool of yourself. And taking risks. I made a major fool out of myself that night. But it was cool.
Lev: I feel like The Golden Fool was a culmination of experiences. That it would have been a much different event if your journey had been different. In the past you’ve told me about your addiction to heroin and your struggle with mental illness. I don’t think people are capable of creating a tangible piece of work, or a night like that release night, if they just lived in a luxury condo and wanted to make this “cool, crazy art night.” It’s not possible to make something that pushes boundaries and shocks or inspires people to go beyond what they think they are capable of doing or are allowed to do. I think that that night proved to anybody that didn’t know for sure that just about anything was possible. Because they were forced to watch a group of people doing a whole series of things that you are generally not allowed to do. Nobody was going crazy…within reason…so I think there’s a lot to be said about the kind of suffering that most must go through to create something that isn’t just sterile and vanilla.
Tristene: Yeah. And the zine took on a really weird life of its own. It was great. We took all this dark stuff and made it fun.
Lev: Where can you get a copy?
Tristene: They are currently available at the MOCA gift shop and the Hyena Gallery. Luka makes a point of telling folks that they are “aspirationally available wherever books are sold”
Lev: Have you been doing any new writing since then?
Tristene: No, I’ve been bogged down with those damn deluxe editions; handwriting old poems. They’re practically all unreleased poems because I never get published anywhere. Then I’ve been trying to get a lot of rest because that event really drained us. Me and Luka really lost our minds. I don’t remember anything after I smashed the wine glass at the end of my performance. I don’t even remember how it all looked. Oh, well it was my first time give me a break.
All photos taken by Gina Canavan.