At home, at work and at play with visionary artist-musician duo Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom
by Trinie Dalton
My boyfriend Matt and I arrived on our bikes to this chic Berlin restaurant that had no sign, and I wouldn’t have known we were at the right place had there not been a long dinner table set outside where a Stevie Nicks-ish redhead sporting a ’70s military jacket sat next to a semi-crusty, spaced out guy with really long hair and a beard that looked matted as if he had just gone scuba diving; his locks looked like they were caked with sea salt. I hope we’re eating with them, I thought, in awe of their awesome style. I also immediately liked them because we were gathered to visit mutual friend, artist AVAF, a.k.a. assume vivid astro focus, a.k.a. Eli Sudbrack, and friends of Eli’s are all jovial and talented. Eli had just come from Brazil via London and was in Berlin for two days before going to Barcelona, or something. Next to him was artist (and also, like Matt and me, summer Berlin resident) Terrence Koh, wearing a buckled-up Michael Jackson leather jacket. Then there was gallerist Javier Peres, the ultimate host, who’d just flown in from somewhere like Greece, England, or the U.S., and was stopping through before a trip to Estonia to pick up travel partner and permanent Berlin resident, Danish artist Kirstine Roepstorff. The other ten people at the table were French or Spanish DJs.
I locked up my bike, sat down, ordered some champagne and a bowl of white asparagus soup, and introduced myself to Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom, the most stylish couple in the world. They looked like a couple I could relate to: same age as me, creative, but with a way advanced fashion sense. I chatted with them while I waited two hours for the waitress to come out and tell me they were out of soup, and it was now too late to order more food since the kitchen was closed. Oh well, I enjoyed more champagne and listened to Delia talk about horoscopes and her visit to a highly-skilled psychic. It was a summery night and Delia and Gavin had only spent a few months thus far in their new Berlin apartment, where they moved to escape the New York art world and high cost of living. They met eight years ago in New York. Matt and I enjoyed discussing the beauty of discovering a new city with them. I felt a bond with Delia and Gavin, a sense of expatriate camaraderie, which imbued the rest of my stay in Germany with the comforting knowledge that other youngish American artists were living only blocks away. Even if I didn’t get to hang out with them, since they had an intense traveling schedule, they were still there, making the city cooler. Delia and Gavin made Berlin feel less foreign to me.
Therefore, I first met Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom as visual artists. They’ve worked as a pair for the past seven years, used to be a couple but aren’t anymore, and live separately, sharing each others’ apartments; Delia’s house is the art studio and Gavin’s is the music space. I’d seen their sculptures, knew they were represented by Daniel Reich, and seen another piece of theirs in a catalog for a group show in Austria. Their sculptures look like minimalist architecture, gleaming and pristine, hypnotically formal, and are either covered in cowrie shells or sequins. Sometimes they’re laquered or gold-leafed. They have a sort of punk-new age spirit, if one could mention the two together without extreme cheesiness. Their artwork’s punk glamour is cross-pollinated by a fascination with the occult. The sculptures are inspired by Art Deco, the golden age of Disco, and 70s Italian horror movie sets; some pieces have religious undertones, referencing Latin-American and African ceremonial totems and shrines, and illuminated manuscripts. Human-sized cubes and cones get cowrie shell eyes and mouths, transforming simple geometric shapes into magical talisman. Most of their sculptures are soundtracked by Delia and Gavin’s trance-inducing disco.
But Delia and Gavin didn’t begin as a collaborative sculpture team. Delia, originally from Miami, moved to New York in the mid-’90s to dance in troupes like Fancypants. Gavin, from Providence, was hosting magic shows under the name The Mystic Satin when the two met at a loft party. At first, Delia joined The Mystic Satin, while her and Gavin tinkered with prop making, set design and several varieties of modern dance. Since then, they’ve made videos, starring themselves, about zombies who wander Times Square; performed live magic acts dressed as a ballerina (Delia) and a warlock (Gavin); danced in their troupe called Black Leotard Front, and played in a heavy metal band, Fight Evil With Evil. Their first 7” single (and straight-up music project) “El Monte,” came out in 2004. Last October, hip electronic label, DFA (home of LCD Soundsystem and The Juan Maclean) released Delia and Gavin’s first full-length album, The Days of Mars. They’ll be playing some U.S. gigs while here for their art opening at Peres Projects Los Angeles in April. They’ll also be promoting the release of their single and video, “Relevee,” out this month.
Days of Mars is like Brian Eno, Goblin, and Kraftwerk combined into four long synthesizer tracks that are ambient but layered with pulsating rhythm. Gavin makes their analog synthesizers. When you listen to it you feel like you’re traveling to well, Mars. But their music is really more about life on Earth, Delia and Gavin each told me separately over the phone from Berlin. I spoke with them both as they passed their phone back and forth. Their wide range of interests reflect how limitless the idea of making art is to them. Genres don’t matter. Music, video, dance, magic show, sculpture, drawing: they love it all.
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Delia: Days of Mars is named after a Winifred Bryher book. She was Hilda Doolittle’s girlfriend. I had a little crush on her. It’s about WW2 in England. Bryher lived in Switzerland, but when the Germans were bombing England, she went back to support her friends, and kept a diary. The way she described people’s reaction to the war, the way they ignored everything that was going on, reminded me of Bush’s re-election. Everyone was threatening to leave the country, revolt, but when he was reelected, no one did anything about it. Everyone was in denial. “Black Spring,” the fourth song on the album, is also named after a book, by Henry Miller. I found out about that while reading Anais Nin.