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Antagonist Movement founder talks documentary, punk rock

By Melissa Crowe
April 2, 2014 at 3:05 p.m.
Updated April 1, 2014 at 11:02 p.m.

Ethan Minsker's new film, "Self Medicated: A Film About Art," screens this weekend at VTXIFF.

SHOW TIMES

•  "Self Medicated: A Film about Art"

•  10 p.m. Friday,Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts, 214 N. Main St; $10

• 6 p.m. Sunday,The Naked Grape Theater in the Sam Houston Room, 120 S. Main St., Second Floor; $10

• VTXIFF.com

Growing up in the era of the Bad Brains and Minor Threat punk explosion in Washington, D.C., the unabashedly emphatic Ethan Minsker, 44, of New York City, embraces roaming outcasts, underdogs and the misfits of the world.

His new film, "Self Medicated: A Film about Art," which will screen this weekend at the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival, captures the dogma of punk and the faith of creativity.

Minsker caught up with Get Out to talk about his newest film, which includes footage from VTXIFF 2013, his artistic principles and his own struggle to find happiness through art.

I'm curious why you chose to open your documentary with Victoria's local punk rockers, Stout City Luchadores.

They embody the ethos of what we're doing.

They felt like they were an isolated community. In the course of the year from them working with us, they started building this community and doing these things.

That's our ultimate goal; we want to go into a community say, "This is how we do it; you can carry this imprint and do it yourself."

They're doing fanzines, music, art shows. Now, we're trying to get them to reach out to a larger community. I think they fit perfectly with what we're doing.

What relation do you see between punk music and the Antagonist Art Movement?

It's the same sort of theories that go behind punk rock applied to art. The freedom to be the oddball and standout is the ethos of punk rock; it's the same thing within our art movement.

We're trying to act as a laboratory and find something new and unique; the only way you can do that is to be open to new influences.

You dedicated the film to Arturo Vega, who was the artistic director of the Ramones. How has he influenced you during your career as an artist?

In our last two films, we had Arturo Vega, who was the artistic director of the Ramones. The new film has a lot of hidden references to Arturo throughout it.

I've known Arturo for more than 10 years before he died. In the film, there's a part where a guy paints the CBGB stuff on the alley behind CBGB (famously known the birthplace of the American punk movement in Manhattan).

In the sequence, there's this scene of him painting on the ground in this long alley that was based on a poem that Arturo had given him that was written by Dee Dee Ramone about Joey Ramone dying. Arturo died in the middle of us making that project. It was just a very weird and sad thing.

He designed a jacket for us, curated shows for us - all the stuff in Chihuahua, Mexico, is all through Arturo.

They're going to build a museum for Arturo in Chihuahua. The thing that's still carried on and is still a big part of our group is that Arturo is famous for introducing artists and trying to get them to collaborate into something new.

He brought us James Rubio; that was one of his roommates. Now, I'm stuck with James Rubio for the rest of my life.

In previous interviews, you seem to focus on integrity, quality and accountability. Why are these the characteristics you mention?

I think if you want to really do something as a work of art that's unique, you have to apply all those elements into that. That's the difference between making a unique piece of art and a commercial product.

Whether it's publishing or film or the art world as far as the art market that applies to here in New York City, a lot of that is about making a quick buck off something.

What we want to do is put more time, energy and effort into it and make something that is a unique piece of art, whether it's a film, book or art project.

In the end, that reflects better on my own work and the group's work at large.

Those are all important elements. I've worked with a lot of artists over the years. When people aren't professional or have integrity about what they're doing, it affects how you deal with them on a personal relationship but the quality of work that they do.

The title of your film has undergone some changes from "The Self Medicators" to "Self Medicated." What sparked the change?

The way our group works ... the films are more collaborative. I'll screen the film, and I'll get feedback from the audience or watch how the audience reacts then I make changes based on that.

We had made the film, and I had first called it "Self Medicated," then one of the painters said, "Let's call it 'Self Medicators,'" and I said "OK," but that seemed kind of weird.

We put it in the title, and then we put out copies of the film like that and got feedback, then he came back and said he didn't like that title, change it back.

There's actually a part where I animated clay melting - that's actually "Self Medicators."

The full title is "Self Medicated: A Film about Art."

The film deals with issues about arts, artists and the struggle to stay happy. Have you dealt with a struggle of your own?

This film is like the third in a series of films. We have "This is Berlin, Not New York," "The Dolls of Lisbon" and this one.

This film is more on the emotional content of an artist.

I think these are inherent things among artists no matter where you are in the world.

When I was shooting the film, I found it very compelling that I could go to Mexico or Ecuador and pick any of these people out, and they would probably have very similar emotional things about why they made art.

One girl said she would be crazy if she wasn't making art, and that was repeated over and over.

There's tons of documentaries you can watch about the rich and successful artists; that bores me. They don't talk about the real truth of why they're making this art.

What if art was taken away from you? What would that mean? If you prevented the people in the film from doing art ... then the depression would be overwhelming. The art is a way of self-medicating and fighting these demons and dark sides.

For myself, I found it to be a lot more positive working creatively.

I had a lot of friends growing up that were murdered when I was a teenager; my family had the economics to send me to New York to go to art school.

I chose to go to art school because that was healthier for me. It's not a choice; it's a way of life at this point.

And what if art was taken away from you?

I would probably first be a very unpleasant person in general.

Because I grew up in an environment that was violent, I was violent, too.

I would be a horrible person, that's for sure.

Art has given me a positive outlet. It's not just doing my own art and working with all these artists; I'm providing avenues and venues for artists that benefit not just me but an entire community.

Anything else on your mind?

We're trying to set up an artist salon and silk-screen party for the Sunday screening at the film festival.

If there are artists who are interested, contact us through the film festival.

We go to the screenings; we're trying to meet local artists and talk to them about what they're doing. I hope people make it to the screenings, and I hope they're not shy about meeting us and talking to us.

We'll be there during the whole festival.

Melissa Crowe will listen to anything once, twice if she likes it. Got a song you'd like to share? Chat with her on twitter @MelCrowe or message her at mcrowe@vicad.com.

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