“Explore Page Realness”: A Nine-Minute Cig With Artist Kiernan Francis

kiernan knives francis

The artist Kiernan Francis, photographed by Mekala Rajagopal.


In our first-ever installment of Smoke Break, we lit one up with Kiernan “Knives” Francis, the artist and filmmaker behind the 2023 nightlife narrative film Trial Period, now on Criterion Collection. His work makes a main character out of his own sceney queer community in New York City, and his latest multimedia solo show at Preacher’s Valley Gallery, New Faces, a reference to his experience as a casting director, was no exception. It’s an exploration of “toxic individualism” made for “couch sitting & afters ambiance,” reads his artist’s statement. At his raucous opening, where Francis was simultaneously DJing, greeting, and selling his DVDs and books, we went headfirst into the LES chaos to catch up over Parliaments and Hennessy.


RAJAGOPAL: Oh my god, you are so busy.

FRANCIS: I know. It’s crazy.

RAJAGOPAL: You’re a multi-tasker. What are you smoking?

FRANCIS: I am smoking Parliaments, if I can find mine. They’re so good.

RAJAGOPAL: Okay, first of all, what is tea with these cops? They were outside when I got here.

FRANCIS: Yeah, they’re gone now, luckily. They were like, “We’re going to shut this down if you don’t police yourselves, because we’ve gotten many noise complaints and all of you are congregated on the block,” and there were like, 60 people outside, and 40 people inside. It’s a small space. But we told them we’re within our rights.

RAJAGOPAL: Those girls have never seen an opening this popping.


RAJAGOPAL: Right. Where are we at?

FRANCIS: We are at 111 Eldridge, Preacher’s Valley Gallery. Shout out Madison [Kenny], this is her space. It’s a super punk type gallery.

RAJAGOPAL: Yeah, it’s my first time hearing of it.

FRANCIS: They did a Harto Falión show, they’re Surf Gang. They’ve been doing some cool stuff. I think they’ve had one or two shows before this one. They just knocked down the wall, that’s why you can still see the remains of it.

RAJAGOPAL: I’m living for that. They need to keep it that way.

FRANCIS: Yeah, it’s really chic, honestly.

RAJAGOPAL: Can you describe the show in a sentence?

FRANCIS: Instagram explore page realness.


FRANCIS: Yeah. I guess I’d say the show is basically looking at the format of street scouting through the lens of discovery and self-discovery. So I influenced this Instagram explore page-type spiritualism into the show, and—

RAJAGOPAL: Oh my god.

FRANCIS: Was that truck trying to hit us?

RAJAGOPAL: Is that your friend?


RAJAGOPAL: It looked like some dudes with hats.

FRANCIS: It’s a cool pick-up truck, honestly. But yeah, it’s looking at text posts and also juxtaposing street scouting—

ATTENDEE 1: I love your work, man.

FRANCIS: Thank you.

ATTENDEE 2: Nice to see you, babe.

FRANCIS: Nice to see you, too. Muah.

FRANCIS: It’s looking at individualism and narcissism within that space, and then this idea of discovering a new face. It’s like when you find a link to a really sick movie that’s bootlegged online, and you’re like, “I’m the first one to ever see this. I’m going to send this link to my friend,” but my friend can’t actually view it because it’s a rip and it got taken down. I was trying to do that with the format, like DVDs that we printed on. You know the guys in the barber shop who had bootleg DVDs of all the new movies, and it was like, “Oh shit, let me watch Gone Girl.”

RAJAGOPAL: The text in the video was giving prayer.

FRANCIS: Yeah. One of the videos, I called it “A Basketball Prayer,” and one part says, “Hoop dream come true.” We’re like living a dream, I feel like. 


FRANCIS: We have a community, and it’s awesome that we’re all helping each other. I’m always interested in prayers. My grandfather had this church, and my father and uncles are still a part of it, and I would go as a kid. So it’s always something that resonated with me, thinking about god, or whatever.

RAJAGOPAL: Did you pray today?

FRANCIS: I didn’t. I prayed yesterday. That hasn’t happened in a very long time, but amen.


FRANCIS: I didn’t show anyone anything I was making. I shot a lot of it in Berlin and Amsterdam, and then I shot a lot of it in the last two weeks in New York in the studio I was renting for dirt cheap. And Gus Grossman did all the graphic design for the DVDs and flyers, and the vinyl sticker on the door. I’m really happy that people are into my deranged mind. Not deranged, but…

RAJAGOPAL: It’s cute that people can see all the homies in the work.

FRANCIS: Yeah, exactly. That’s what I want openings to be like. I want the homies to be there, because I’m going to all these stuffy openings downtown, and I’m like, “Is this even downtown?”

RAJAGOPAL: It’s art fair season.

FRANCIS: Yeah, I mean, my friend just sold two works at Frieze, which is cool. But I’ve been working on a narrative film for so long, so I’m happy that I did something experimental. I’ve just been chilling outside, smoking, drinking.

RAJAGOPAL: What’s the vibe been?

FRANCIS: The vibe has been really crazy. A lot of people have come through. I texted Crush, who lives up the street, to set up the CDJs, and had my friends help me put all the DVD covers on. It was really a family affair. We were writing on all the DVD covers last night until really late. But tonight has been a lot of scenesters and cool people I know.

RAJAGOPAL: It’s City bags galore out here.

FRANCIS: Galore.

RAJAGOPAL: Who gave you those flowers?

FRANCIS: Oh shit, who did give those? That’s really sweet. I want to thank them.

RAJAGOPAL: Did anyone cute show up?

FRANCIS: My boyfriend.

RAJAGOPAL: Besides these kids. [Laughs] Hey guys!

FRANCIS: Hey, Emmanuel. All my homies. 

RAJAGOPAL: What you been drinking?

FRANCIS: I’ve just been drinking any beer that anyone brings me. Wait, whoa.

RAJAGOPAL: What’s going on? He’s acting crazy. Is he the trash man or is he just like, a performance artist?

FRANCIS: He must be. That actually was a beautiful piece.

DIEGO BARCELO: Congratulations. Thank you so much for having me be part of it.

FRANCIS: Thank you. Take care. 

BARCELO: I’ll catch you. 

FRANCIS: It’s so crazy. I saw him on the subway at 2:00 in the morning, and I was like, “I want to scout him, but I can’t, because it’s 2:00 in the morning, and we’re on the subway with only three other people.” It felt a little sketchy. And then, I was working at 105 Henry and he came into the gallery three days later, and I was like, “Whoa.” Then, I took my lunch break and he was at No Gallery, so I scouted him. He did a shoot for this thing, and then he was like, “Oh, 111 Eldridge? I partially own it.”

RAJAGOPAL: Oh, wow, full circle moment.

FRANCIS: It’s how the world works.

RAJAGOPAL: What was the littest part of the night so far?

FRANCIS: Actually, my friend Ava brought me this little baby tiny Hennessy.

RAJAGOPAL: It’s so cute. You didn’t crack it open yet?

FRANCIS: Wait, right. Let’s crack it open. Pinkies up.

RAJAGOPAL: Classy, classy. Art.

FRANCIS: Art week.

RAJAGOPAL: Art all week but this art out here is weak. No bars.

FRANCIS: Like what? Going to Frieze but we ain’t freezing.

RAJAGOPAL: Fuck Frieze, got all this ice on me. 

FRANCIS: I want to do a Whitney bar. 

RAJAGOPAL: It’s too hard.

FRANCIS: Wait, I used to listen to this song on SoundCloud. Let me find it. It’s like, “Whitney Houston, back and feeling famous, bitch.”

RAJAGOPAL: Right. That’s how it feels when the police pulls up to your opening because it’s too live.

FRANCIS: Exactly.