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Avant/Garde Diaries In Conversation

Michaela DePrince. Images by Fridolin Schöpper and Elias Ressegatti.

In the past six months, The Avant/Garde Diaries has infiltrated the New York creative community in a quietly influential way. Since June, the self-proclaimed “online interview magazine and global event series” has been hosting events ranging from film screenings to installations and publishing video interviews with the likes of olfactory branding company 12.29 and 91-year-old interior designer and style icon Iris Apfel, but it’s not in your face about it. The Diaries’ approach is humble and subtle (more about community than publicity). You could even call it less American than European, which makes sense since the project was initiated by the German-based Mercedes Benz. The content mainly focuses on artists, often with a fashion bent, but innovators of all walks are welcome. A month or so ago, the Diaries approached Dossier with the possibility of partnering on the release of a film featuring the extraordinary teenage ballerina Michaela DePrince, which we are exclusively previewing below along with images of the shoot by Fridolin Schöpper and Elias Ressegatti. We also took the opportunity to learn more about The Avant/Garde Diaries’ mission and mentality via the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Kitty Bolhoefer.

Erin Dixon: What was your aim in launching The Avant/Garde Diaries; has it changed in the year that you have been in New York?

Kitty Bolhoefer: The idea is to create a platform, online and offline, for forward-thinking talent across all industries. We hope to communicate new ideas, whether they prove to be successful in the future or not—anything from art and fashion to robotics technology. Although The Avant/Garde Diaries were planned and initially launched in Berlin, it always felt like a New York project. We finally opened our street-level editorial office and project space here in June, and one of the biggest changes is that we have become a lot more approachable. During our informal open houses, and just throughout the day, people step into our office, talk to us and share their opinions on who or what they think is cool and cutting edge. It’s especially great when people we’ve featured on the site or previously collaborated with stop by for a coffee or chat, and it results in new projects. So far we’ve produced three events in the project space itself, and we’ve been happy with each of them: in September we hosted an exclusive screening of some of Erik Madigan Heck’s film work on the eve of New York Fashion Week. The following month, we bid farewell to summer with a little party premiering a video we made featuring pro surfers Mikey DeTemple and Kassia Meador (styled, and surfing, in Henrik Vibskov). [We also] showed some other great surf films created by Mikey and his company, High Seas Films. And last month we launched a new experiment called Analogue/Visual, where we ask some of our favorite bloggers to take their digital stylings offline and create something interactive and analog in our project space. For our first foray we worked with the hilarious and talented Chris Black, who curates Words for Young Men. We’ve got a bunch of other programming in the works as well—art installations, lectures, film screenings—and we’re looking forward to hosting these types of events on an ongoing basis. Ultimately, the new office will help us build an New York City-centered creative community.

Erin: How does New York differ from Berlin, creatively?

Kitty: Both cities draw a lot of creative people from all over the world. Berlin probably offers a lot more freedom because it’s an incredibly affordable city in which to live, work and try out crazy new things. It also gives you the freedom to fail and try again. In this way, Berlin is kind of like a laboratory. A lot of big brands visit the city, observe what’s going on and take new ideas home. New York is much tougher, more restricted and obviously more expensive. You have to know exactly what you want to do and find a way to minimize your financial risks. It’s amazing that the city has managed to hold on to a creative mandate for so long. On the other hand, the whole world is constantly looking at us here, and if your brand or creativity is accepted, you are more likely to become internationally successful. In other words, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. And if you can’t make it in Berlin, you won’t make it anywhere.

Erin: Why did you choose a digital platform?

Produced by Julia Wilczok. Directed by Elias Ressegatti. Camera and Photos by Fridolin Schoepper. Edited by Noemi Sugaya. Sound by Alexander Hankoff. Light by Darell Day. Styling by Julie Brooke Williams. Clothing and accessories, Morgan Le Faye, D&G and Arielle De Pinto. Hair and Makeup by Ingeborg at Factory Downtown using Make Up Forever. Production Assistant: Jack Foley.

Click “Read More” for additional images and text.

Kitty: Since The Avant/Garde Diaries is predicated on being forward-thinking; it only made sense to go digital and explore the new tools and technologies emerging in the field of digital publishing. We also feel that video portraits and interviews are the best format to convey personal stories and points of view. You get to hear people’s voices, their accents, see their facial expressions and surroundings. The digital medium also gives us the tools to obtain immediate feedback from our audience about what inspires them and what doesn’t. Nevertheless, we’re still great lovers of books and magazines, for which there is no substitute, and we’d love to launch some print version of the Diaries in the future. I think that’s every editor’s wish.

Erin: What does The Avant/Garde Diaries consider “avant-garde”?

Kitty: Many people, places, and ideas are avant-garde, even if they have the appearance of failure or unpopularity. A good example is the designer Konstantin Grcic, whose designs often appall people at first. His “Chair One” was designed to minimize as much material as possible to save resources while still functioning as a chair. The result was totally criticized by the mainstream because it was too far removed from people’s idea of what a chair should look like. Only when the de Young Museum in San Francisco furnished its café with an entire army of them did it become an accepted and celebrated design object. These days you can hardly find an architectural rendering of some big project that doesn’t feature the “Chair One.”

Erin: Where does the project find inspiration?

Kitty: Pretty much anywhere. We don’t see avant-garde as something exclusively affiliated with the arts and, in many ways, it’s more interesting to actually look outside that realm for new ideas and innovations. Everyone who has the courage and brains to think in a new direction is inspirational. In the past few months, we’ve discovered particularly amazing people in the fields of science and sports, for example.

Erin: What does the project hope to inspire?

Kitty: So much of Western civilization is drawn to a romanticization of the past, and this nostalgia manifests itself in all types of disciplines and lifestyle choices. While that’s all fine and well, it’s a safe and convenient stance. We already know what works and what pleases the senses. The Avant/Garde Diaries hopes to stir it up a little and to at least encourage people to think about familiar things in news ways. A few years ago, a physicist from Arizona State University wrote a paper that generated a lot of waves because he suggested that space exploration would progress a lot more if NASA abandoned the notion of bringing astronauts back from the missions they go on, which is crazy. But it’s also true. Magellan and his crew didn’t worry about returning home. They just went. And look at what they discovered by throwing caution, literally, to the wind and imagining incredible things just over the horizon. We love that kind of stuff: people who aren’t afraid to think differently, embrace uncertainty, wade outside their comfort zone and take creative leaps of faith.

Erin: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned so far from creating the Diaries?

Kitty: Perhaps this shouldn’t have been terribly surprising, but the majority of people have very short attention spans when it comes to watching stuff online. Thus, we’ve had to create shorter, punchier, more digestible vignettes, which is sometimes difficult when you’ve spent a lot of time, money and effort on something that has the potential to be much longer.

Erin: Why did you choose Michaela DePrince as a subject for the Diaries?

Kitty: We chose Michaela because she is an exceptional figure in her field. Not only is she an extremely talented dancer, but as a refugee from Sierra Leone, she’s overcome substantial racial and psychological obstacles inherent in an otherwise mostly affluent and Caucasian art form. We hope that she paves the way for other dancers who don’t fit a ballerina stereotype to make that world a lot more varied and interesting.

Erin: Who should we look out for next on the Diaries?

Kitty: Stay tuned for new interviews with innovators in far-out fields like robotics and taxidermy, as well as new conversations with people at the avant-garde of fashion, art and design.

Erin: What are your plans for the future; how would you like The Avant/Garde Diaries to evolve?

Kitty: First and foremost, we hope to grow a community of interesting people who are pursuing new ideas and creating new ways of thinking. We want to collaborate with people and forge new projects and stories that hopefully inspire and ignite people’s willingness to look forward instead of back. The specific kinds of projects we do with these people remain to be seen. Right now our imaginations are pretty open.

One Comment

  1. Jin Gore
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Great article. Just discovering this by seeing photos of Michaela dePrince. She truly inspires and she inspired me to start this artform (ballet) even though I am 20 year old beginner, who is six feet tall and of African descent living in Jamaica where few practice this art. Thank you for featuring her and being outside the box.

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