Introducing: Chris Moukarbel

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Published September 28, 2010

 

PHOTO COURTESY CHRIS MOUKARBEL

HOW WERE YOU EDUCATED? I went to art school in DC and then Yale sculpture MFA. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO NOW? I was the creative director for the Scissor Sisters album campaign for their new record, Night Work. I make site-specific videos and installations and I’m finishing a film about Internet star Chris Crocker. WHAT DID YOU DO FOR THE ALBUM? I was initially asked by the band to design the website and the album cover but quickly became involved in broader projects. It’s mostly been about creating a unified vision between artwork, photos, and image. WHAT WERE THE INSPIRATIONS? This record is a return to form for the band in certain ways. More dance-y and closer to home. Jake’s mentioned that they were attempting to understand a tradition of music that was specific to the history NYC club culture. One question he asked himself was “What would NY club culture have looked like if AIDS never happened?” It’s a morbid thought, but also kind of sweet. I heard the record as it was developing and it made me think visually of Mapplethorpe’s New York. I approached the Mapplethorpe Foundation and they were really excited to collaborate. It felt like a perfect match with the creative themes for the record–this odd tension between extreme restraint and release. A telephone, a dick and a suit. WHAT CUES DID YOU TAKE FROM THE BAND? For this album? Jake is the singer and my boyfriend of six years, [so] it was a pretty natural collaboration. I’ve known the whole band for about that long, so I’ve been close to the different looks and sounds that they’ve been through. They’re all magical people and have very distinct identities. Their look and sound has always had a sense of humor, but now its also a bit more sophisticated, strange, and uncanny. HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN YOUR OWN SENSIBILITY, AND DOES IT DIFFER FROM THAT OF THE BAND?

I tend to be understated and gravitate towards subtle messages. Scissor Sisters never do subtle. People love them for their pop sensibility, and it was important to support that. I love the idea of pop culture as folk culture. My own work is often about popular media, so it’s really mind-blowing to think about their fan base. They get to create signifiers that really affect how a lot of people experience culture. I was asked by Babydaddy [guitarist] to pitch some ideas and they really responded to them. Jake and I were a bit apprehensive about working together but it was actually really fun and I would probably be throwing my ideas around anyway. WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING FOR THE BAND TO EXECUTE? We made over 60 versions of the album cover before returning to the original image we wanted. It’s a photo of Peter Reed’s ass. He was a ballet dancer and model for Robert Mapplethorpe. It was this thing that felt really right but also risky and wildly different from anything the band’s ever done. People at the label kind of freaked. They thought it was too provocative, too gay etc. We showed it to Michael Stipe, who’s creative directed a lot of his own albums. He was just like, “You know what, kids now don’t have the same hang ups as we do.” The funny thing is when the label found out that he was in support of the photo, it became a lot easier to push it through. I think it’s a charged image for a lot of reasons. The head of Universal didn’t see it until it was publicly announced, and apparently had a fit. I just think the image is really hot and iconic, and looks like it was always meant to be an album cover. The response has been incredibly pro, and everyone seems to think its Jake’s ass anyway. WHAT’S YOUR NEXT PROJECT? I’m making a documentary called Me at the Zoo about Internet star Chris Crocker. He was the “Leave Britney Alone!” kid and we see him as this unexpected kind of folk hero. There’s this funny overlap in coming off of working on Scissor Sisters, where I was thinking about a broad popular audience. My film comes from a similar place of looking at pop culture as a true form of folk culture. DID YOU DREAM ABOUT THE SCISSOR SISTERS WHEN YOU WERE WORKING ON IT? I’m daydreaming about them right now!