Filmmaker Ethan Minsker recently won Best Documentary at the Gorst Underground Film Festival for his film Man In Camo. It’s a personal journey exploring his life, his creative output, and the influence he had on the New York art scene as a driving force in the Antagonist Art Movement.
I had the chance to watch Man In Camo in a chilly metalworker’s warehouse in Gorst, WA. The warehouse lacked the creature comforts of even a basement coffee bar in Brooklyn, but it was the closest thing to a Punk Rock aesthetic you could ever find in Gorst. And I like to think Minsker's mere presence in their tiny town antagonized the locals.
What are your artistic influences?
ETHAN MINSKER: Punk Rock mostly, writers like Charles Bukowski, filmmakers like Kenneth Anger, and bands like the Clash.
What influences you today?
I hate to admit it, but Wes Anderson. For my films, I’m constantly looking for little bits of animation that other artists created and then make my perversion of that. I also look through magazines like Vice and go to a lot of art openings. So, I might see a painting by some random artist that is the inspiration for another project. I never copy, and you could never tell what inspired it, but I think you need to see a lot of art if you make art, read a lot of books if you want to write them, and so on.
Do you consider yourself Punk?
I am an Antagonist with a Punk heart.
Is Punk still important? Has it morphed into something else?
I think the theories of Punk Rock are still relevant. Breaking the rules and non-conformity are especially important when that applies to making art or anything creative.
What’s your proudest artistic accomplishment?
I’m always most proud of whatever I am working on currently, so Man In Camo or my current book, Antagonist. For me, the nature of what I do is, I have to love what I’m currently working on. Once I’m done, I slowly grow to despise it.
How many styles of animation did you use in Man In Camo, and did you do it all yourself?
There’s animation made from After Effects, claymation, paper animation, stop motion--probably more that I’m forgetting. I did about 95% of the animation myself, and with help from three other animators including Un Lee, Kee Koo, and Tiago Mena Abrantes. I’m still adding new animation all the time because I believe that this is an art project, not just a film, so if I can make the visuals just a little bit better I will.
How has the New York art scene changed in the last 25 years?
The art market as a whole has been consistent in that it’s always been about the value of art, not the integrity of the work or the artist. What changes are the trends. There’s always a new fad in the art world. The trick is to transcend that and be timeless. Power has shifted away from the art critics to the dealers and auction houses. There was a time when a critic could make or break the career of an artist. Today it’s all about the dealers. Quality of the work is irrelevant.
Antagonist Art Movement…what is its legacy?
We worked with over 3,000 artists for the eleven years we had events. Those artists are now spread across many creative fields. For myself it was like a school and taught me everything I know about art, the business of art, and working with communities.
Why do zines survive—in spite of blogs and ebooks?
For me, I still do a fanzine primarily because I enjoy analog things. I have a collection of typewriters. I still have DVDs and VHS. I have a collection of records and still play them. The benefit of having a physical zine is that you reach people in new ways. I can leave a zine at the galleries, coffee shops, record stores, or on the seat of a subway train, and some random stranger will pick it up, whereas on the internet, you’re competing with people who pay to have their things placed above anyone else’s.
What’s it like being identified as the Man In Camo? What does your camo suit represent?
The title of my film comes from when I would attend events and overhear people saying, “Who’s the man in camo?” It made me think of the man in black, Johnny Cash. I hope when more people see the film, I will be identified as the “Man In Camo”, but for now, people just seem to enjoy the suit and have a lot of questions. I think when you go to an event, especially an art event, you should dress in accordance with what you do creatively. A lot of my work has a relation to tragedy and comedy. It’s tough to make anything. You have to be ready for combat.
What’s it like staying up late silk-screening t-shirts, stapling zines, preparing flyers for an art show, etc.? Do you ever resent it when you do all the work yourself?
I’m lucky that I have a lot of support, so I can call in backup when needed. But during those times when I am by myself, I fall into a meditative state, so I don’t mind it. Besides, I find it more fulfilling to be working on something creative as opposed to just wasting my time playing video games. Fuck you, video games!
How did you come up with the name Psycho Moto Zine?
The first name of my fanzine was East Coast Exchange. I covered the Punk Rock music scene from New York City down to Washington D.C. I did interviews, music reviews, and because of that, I started meeting artists and creators of all types. It became centered on arts. Once I moved to New York City, I realized that the rents really chained you to a job. So life was like a crazy machine—you eat, you work, you sleep. It’s a cycle. The only way to step outside of that circle is by pursuing your creative dreams, servicing your creative soul. The Psycho Moto title is related to those theories.
Do you stay in touch with artists you promoted through the Antagonist Art Movement? What are some of the more memorable updates you’ve received from them?
My network of friends are all people I know from the Antagonist Movement or artists I’ve met on collaborative projects domestically and abroad. One of the Ecuadorian artists we worked with, Gabriel Roldos, is now the head of cultural affairs for one of the cities in Ecuador. Ted Riederer is the director for the Howl Happening gallery. Others run galleries and work in museums, spread across many art communities.
Do you embrace technology, or do you prefer a more primitive aesthetic?
My animation is a mixture of new technologies and analog, so I might work in paper and then After Effects to clean up the end result. I wish everything could be analog, but that’s just not the climate of the world today. When I first started distributing my films, I sold them on VHS. Now I find it hard to sell DVDs because nobody has a DVD player. My two last films are only distributed online by the Orchard. You can’t escape it.
Chaos and Art. Explain…
The more chaos you have in art the better. I believe this. Perfect representations of life are boring. You can’t make something without destruction.
Artist, author, filmmaker, zine publisher…do you want to explore any other artistic disciplines?
Acting. I have done a little in my own productions and for a few other filmmakers as well as voice characters for our podcast Dubious Conclusions. But I am terrible at it. Which makes it exciting to do. Hopefully I’ll get better. People should be putting me in their films. REALLY.
What’s the worst thing about the DIY/Punk/Alt Artist scene? Do you ever get frustrated?
I get frustrated all the time. The problem is you’re competing with the mainstream. They have the funding and resources to get lots of exposure. Imagine trying to sell your self-published book on Amazon—you are buried under all of the large publishing houses. If you post a video on Vimeo it’s the same thing. Everything is geared for the metadata of clicks. If you are not extremely popular then it’s difficult to get your work seen. This isn’t about fame. I find the more people who know about your work the easier it is to do it.
What’s the best feedback you get from aspiring creatives in their 20s?
I am thrilled anytime some kid tells me they read my zine. Especially if my zine is the first one they came across. Then anytime they see a fanzine, they will think of mine first.
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