Accessing Chaos: New SFMOMA Podcast From Artist Ross Simonini Tackles ‘Art and the Unknown’

Genesis Breyer P Orridge taken by Ross Simonini. P Orridge is featured on the newest episode of Raw Material.

A photo of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, taken by Ross Simonini. P-Orridge is featured on the newest episode of Raw Material.


In the crowded and popular world of podcasting, contemporary art enthusiasts have a relatively small pool to choose from. There is Bad At Sports, operating out of Chicago, one called Art + Ideas, from the Getty, and Tyler Green’s Modern Art Notes program, and the artist Brendan Fowler did a couple of long-form interviews last year under the dm8h943 banner. To add to that, internet radio stations like Know Wave and Kchung are populated with many artist-run shows, but the overall the landscape is still relatively limited, especially when compared to the worlds of comedy or politics. Now there is a new addition to this group, Raw Material, a podcast created and hosted by the Bay Area artist and writer Ross Simonini that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is presenting.

The first season of Raw Material is six episodes long and focuses on what Simonini described to me over the phone as “art and the unknown,” which he defined as “anything that sort of falls outside of science, outside of our concrete knowledge, allowing for the connection between a term like ‘the unknown’ in contemporary art to be opened up a little bit and not dismissed for whatever stigmas or discourse” that might be thought to already exist around the subject.

The first episode deals with artists who communicate with deities or inter-dimensional beings. The second show is centered on artists who work with ceremonies or shamanic traditions, and features Joseph Beuys, Terence Koh, Santiparro, and Dohee Lee. “It’s really going to try to kaleidoscopically—as much as can be done, it’s just 20-minute episodes—take a look at that topic,” Simonini explained. A third episode, called “The Sigil,” was released earlier this week and features Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Micki Pellerano, Austin Osman Spare, and Amanda Yates Garcia.

New episodes are being produced on an ongoing basis. “It’s not like an HBO series kind of feel where it’s all ready to go,” Simonini said. Rather, it is developing as the season progresses. He added that he is excited to try out “the Charles Dickens thing where, as certain people react to the episodes as they come out, I can continue to react to the people’s reactions.”

Each episode will have its own tonality. Certain shows will be collaged, others will be profiles and some will take the form of what Simonini described as being “more intuitively assembled, so that it won’t be as direct in a thematic focus as, say, the first episode, but maybe a little bit looser in the way that artists are put together,” which will allow the listener to make more abstract connections. “I really hope that every episode has a slightly different color,” Simonini continued.

I asked Simonini—who has produced a wide body of work that includes paintings, music and writing—if his own artistic practice intersects with any of the topics explored on the podcast. “I think that these are things that I deal a lot with in my work, but maybe not in the formal way that a lot of these artist’s do,” he explained, telling me that he often incorporates conceptual methods that force him to avoid making “familiar marks,” including working with his feet and both arms to paint. He noted that a lot of the artists involved in the podcast are “also practitioners in some way. Poets who are also palm readers, or artists who also work intuitively.”

Simonini mentioned another fact that unifies this disparate group of mystics and artists. “You’re just trying to access chaos,” he said, “and I think in the end that’s probably another synonym for the unknown, and probably ultimately the goal for a lot of people working with these practices—to harness chaos in some way in their work.”

Looking forward to the show’s second season, Simonini said that the podcast will “move on to another topic, which is yet to be disclosed,” somewhat fitting for a show that for now is about the unknown. Ultimately, Simonini thinks of podcasts as “new territory” and told me he was “really excited for the possibilities that it has as sound collage, as a form of literature, as a form of journalism, as a form of art in general, and so I’m really trying to explore that with every episode in different ways.”

“I think it’s a little bit wide open at this point,” he continued.

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