November 19th, 2010 | Interviews

“An ongoing series of collectively-organized, live web-casts, the Eternal Telethon raises money to establish a convalescent home for retired and ailing artists in need of a break. Founded in early 2009 by Akina Cox, Chad Dilley, Ina Viola Blasius, John Burtle, and Niko Solorio, the telethon is very pleased to have featured over 200 artists sharing their creativity to show solidarity for the creation of an artist retirement home. The telethon functions both as a showcase for artists to present new, experimental work in a low-pressure environment, as well as a demonstration of how a community can effectively define its needs and empower itself.” This interview by Drew Denny.

What is the Eternal Telethon? How long as it been around?
Niko Solorio: The Eternal Telethon has been around since before the birth of zero and is working to introduce a scene meant to tear open the social envelope a little more with wit, talent, and lots of wonderful free spirit. It is a virtual platform for performance based and other not so easily categorized works and also functions as a fundraiser for the creation of the Eternal Convalescent Home for Retired Artists (E.C.H.R.A). A nursing home for weary artists, E.C.H.R.A will be a free-form residency program open to all supporters of the Eternal Telethon.
John Burtle: It’s a reoccurring event that uses the standard telethon format (performers, hosts, asking for donations…). We’re raising funds to start an artist retirement home as well as creating a space for artist to present their ideas to a global audience. It was founded almost several years ago.
Who founded the Eternal Telethon? How did y’all come up with the idea?
JB:  It was founded by Akina Cox, Chad Dilley, Ina Viola Blasius, Niko and myself. The project grew out of a desire to bring together our local and global community. Niko and Ina had recently returned from Germany and I had gotten back from a residency over there a few months prior. Chad and Akina had been living here and I think struggling, as we all do, with vast distance of the city. So we wanted something that our friends afar could experience that would also bring together people in a real physical space. Since then over two hundred amazing human beings have participated in the live events, and we have had people watching and participating in the chat room from twenty-seven countries.
NS: Apparently, I was stoned. But I believe that it had something to do with Charles Baudelaire and his reference to the artist as an “Eternal Convalescent”.
Where will your retirement home for artists be built?
JB: We are looking into a couple of places but by far the one that’s at the top of our list is the Salton Sea area of California.  There are a couple of factors pulling us out there: it’s super cheap, it seems like the right distance from LA (where most of the telethons supporters reside), the desert weather is beneficial for the elderly, and it’s the most frequented stop on the west coast for migrating birds. Also, it is already home to several quirky creative attractions like Salvation Mountain, The Banana Club Museum and Slab City.
NS: It also just happens to be located on the San Andreas Fault in California’s Border Region. And you might say…”how do you know this?”… well, I looked it up on Wikipedia.
What materials will be used in its construction? Who will construct it?
NS: We will use magic, paper mache and concrete to construct E.C.H.R.A. It will be constructed by participants and supporters of the Eternal Telethon. Of course one of our most important materials is the donations we receive from our beautiful and talented advocates and patrons.
What kind of amenities will it feature? Will it be more likely to include a hot tub and steam room or a mud pit and a jungle room?
: For the time being we are staying focused on just acquiring land, which seems like the most attainable first step. But we are thinking about getting a large enough plot (about 10 acres) so that several structures could be built. Lots of ideas have been thrown around about what our artist retirement home might look like. It’s possible that some individual artists might like to take on building spaces that are would be important to them, while other structures will be created more collectively. Some spaces and structures that have been suggested are a massage parlor, a giant bed that could sleep 20+ people, a broadcast center/recording studio, a super adobe mini village, an extensive library, a museum, gourmet kitchen, and of course a swimming pool/hot tub. No one has of yet proposed a mud pit or jungle room, but I think those are important possibilities to consider.
NS: Amenities? I think that we are likely to have a hot tub full of mud and a steam room jungle. Other possibilities include “Champagne Colonoscopies”, “DIY LOL OMG’s”, and my favorite of the moment… “Junkyard Car Karaoke”! What I guess I am trying to say is that we would like to give physical form to the intangible as well as highlight the delicate nature of the ridiculous.
How does a ‘home’ define a community and meet its needs? Would your home be self-sustaining? What would be required of inhabitants? What benefits would they enjoy?
JB:  I think homes are very beneficial to a community. Even if it is not a place that you are at all the time it is important to have a space to go where you know you will be supported.  As I am in different communities, I feel at home in different places. For instance I feel at home in Long Beach where I grew up and where my family lives. Even though I don’t live there now I am apart and supported by a community there. As an artist I feel at home at several creatively run spaces like Machine in Los Angeles. But (unlike Machine) these projects are often gracefully short lived with the ever-increasing cost of rent and living in general and the lack of public government support in this country.  Often as artists, when we do find a home, we have to work so much just to keep them that we are not able to fully enjoy them. We are trying to secure a space, so in the future we can retire from working so hard just to sustain our homes.
NS: I once had a Chinese man translate a German proverb to me…it goes something like, “home is where your feet are”. What I think is special and unique about this ‘home’ is that it is actually being defined by a community of artists who have not only embraced it’s concept with open arms, but are also continually showing us how we can improve or make the Eternal Telethon and E.C.H.R.A better. I think this is invaluable and shows the depth and reach of the project. As our audience continues to grow I think that we will also be required to make adjustments and continually re-evaluate what needs are not being met and how we can better facilitate them.
I think that the retirement home would certainly have to be self sustaining if is going to last for eternity (eternity is a long time after all). We need a place not only for artists to live in the here and now, but also for extra terrestrials to relax once they finally decide to abduct and probe us.
What would be required of inhabitants is the ability to communicate. That may sound difficult to do with a Facebook world and an illiterate society, but together I think that we can make sure that everyone is “liked twice”.
Stephen van Dyke: When the convalescent home for artists is built, I think it will be defined by who chooses to go there and how they want to use the place.  What brought a Ross’s gull to the Salton Sea all the way from the high arctic?  Why do a third of the remaining population of American white pelicans live there?  The Salton Sea was originally seen as a disaster area.  Now it’s a refuge in a constant struggle.  The Telethon is an inclusive group swimming upstream for an eternity.  The community might never find that home, and the needs might never fully be met, but it’s that eternal striving that puts the “Eternal” in Eternal Telethon.
Benefits may include hugs, balloons, and cake.
Just as your future construction will give a home to artists who can’t find a cozy place in society, the Telethon itself seems to provide a home for artworks that don’t necessarily fit into the art world. How do you choose Telethon participants?
JB: We have always thought that whether we raise money or not, how well we’re supporting our fellow artists is how we would determine the project’s success. We welcome all artists – and especially get excited when artists together.
NS: I think that what we as a community of artists are doing with the telethon is filling a vacuum for artists who are frustrated with many of the outdated and sometimes alienating or drab outlets available (or rather, unavailable) to them in the so-called “art-world”, which seems increasingly deprived of free will.
SVD: The telethon format gives you a lot of second chances.  If something goes wrong, or if we’re inspired to elaborate on an idea, it actually becomes a strategy to keep people watching.  Because the Telethon is for artists and by artists, anything we do on screen will be construed as “art.”  The live camera keeps rolling and rolling, and we have to be prepared to do anything to avoid dead air time while maintaining an audience.  No matter how ready I could be for the event, I would never have expected the great opportunity of calling up Jasper Johns until I was dialing the number.  99% of the art world is about selling objects, and that encourages the dominant economic system to influence most artworks’ meanings.  At the Telethon you mostly have artists whose work is not about money, and yet we’re participating as a community to raise money.  It’s a nice answer to the dilemma of making money while staying true to the meaning of your work.
Could you describe a favorite moment from a past Telethon? A great performance, discovering a new artist or friend, or perhaps a disaster or hilarious mix up?
NS: A favorite moment for me was when “Flawless Mother Sabrina” had a phone conversation with Andy Warhol (post mortem…well he is dead isn’t he?) from X-Initiative gallery in Chelsea.
I would have to say that a great performance to highlight (and quite honestly, there are so many I would like to include, but then this interview would become a novel) would have to be during the last telethon we did recently at CalArts as part of 40th CalArts Alumni Reunion. It was an interactive work by Tyler Calkin (who you can also say is a newly discovered artist and friend, at least to me!). Tyler needed some volunteers to perform his famous “Double-Standard” piece, which requires that two members from the audience have a face to face match of endurance by clutching onto mouth-guards (sterilized of course) which have been placed at both ends of a mop pole (I know, very complicated right?!). The first person to flinch essentially “loses” the match. It is kind of like a very elaborate staring contest. Well, anyhow… John and a very precocious 8 year old from the audience (who was charmingly referred to as “Eight” by our hosts Ayana Hampton and Lawrence McEvoy III) ended up going head to head in this intense battle of endurance. The spontaneity and play fullness of that performance I think captured for me the very essence of what the Eternal Telethon is about. (By the way, the 8 year old won the battle! Sorry John, but “Eight” was determined!)
What’s happening at the 24-hour Telethon? Any particular projects you’d like to discuss?
A lot is happening for the November 20th-21st Telethon. There are around seventy-five artists and collaborative groups that span a wide range of modes for creative production: musicians, poets, psychics, performers, dancers, video artists, comedians, chefs, nurses, martial artists, actors, painters, costume makers… Energy Consultants Inc. will reduce all arguments to their negating polar opposites with frenzied theremin. Julie Lequin will be screening her video True Stories (almost). Jen Bruce will be sewing a quilt made form donated pieces of performers clothing/costumes that will then be auctioned off near the end of the broadcast. Body City will lead several participatory dance pieces including a human knot untangling. Stephen van Dyke will be doing several projects. Among them, calling wealthy artists and asking them for donations and looking for Eternal Telethon supporters on chat roulette. Claire Cronin will be performing a series of sad folk songs for electric guitar. Musical acts include Emily Lacy, Birdstrike, Pangea, and BYOFF. Nicole Antebi will be making date shakes. Elana Mann Elana Mann is going to give a live News Broadcast with reports from artists living around the globe. The experimental meditation center of los angeles presents 30 meditations in 30 minutes: shouted version!! Tyler Calkin will bring some of his participatory sculptures for the studio audience to interact with. B & T will be playing a game of horse. Gordon Winiemko will be doing some unmotivational speaking session. Sojung Kwon will initiate 1 discussion amongst 5 people, each speaking a different language.. Also a lo-tech light show by Anna Mayer, cactus puppetry, poems generated by google search predictions, Balinese gamelan, Bob Ross impersonation and much more!
Why make this Telethon 24 hours long? How do you feel about endurance as an art material?
JB: One reason this telethon is so long because we wanted to be able to include everyone who was interested in being involved. It also felt like a logical step because endurance is often apart of telethons, pledge drives, dance-athons and the other activities that continue to inspire the project. I’m not quite sure what will happen in the twenty third hour, but I like that uncertainty. We might all be totally wrecked and barely able to hold up the microphone, but that might still make for a great Telethon.
Will you be taking any naps?
JB: There has been some talk of a nap session accompanied by live lullabies… you’ll have to watch to see what happens.