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Transcripts for Virgil Abloh: "Figures of Speech."

What’s the name? Who are you? What do people know you for?

First of all, A-Ron, the Downtown Don. Used to be the dirty rotten but I graduated now. Own downtown and shit, that’s it. Support the creative community and the platform. Encouragement. Separation. To make products of our lifestyles. We have to wake up and be us. That’s most important. You know what I’m saying? This is our time. Keep the legacy alive. I’m a full visionary. It’s universally. Universally, I have no time to hate. Hit me with it. I’ve been here for a long time.

This is my backyard. This is paradise, man. New York is paradise for funk and opportunity. You’ve got to take advantage of it and attack the situation, and shit. So, I’m happy to be a part of this shit. It chose me. I’m here. Ain’t going nowhere. A lot of things are brewing up above the surface. This, I think, fall we’re about to go public with what we’ve been working on for years and shit, the lifestyle, our whole entire life.

It’s just push each other, push the movement. You know what I’m saying? It’s like the city can get fucked up. It can get gentrified and shit, people running away from it and saying that it’s becoming a bad sitcom. But this is the time to attack it. This is the time to introduce what we’ve been doing for years to the newcomers who come and don’t know the history behind the city.


I remember the day in the first term of the third year where I came back from the college library one day with a stack of books in front of me and felt like a…an enigma in person. It was the day my further education started—when I realized what I didn't know. And also, when I realized the…bigger context in which the work I thought I was interested in fit in. So, you kind of—you go and study graphics because you like Fiorucci stickers or you like record covers. And you find Russian construction—you find Malevich's Black Square and you go—that moment when you realize that you didn't know just how much you don't know.

So, I had that moment one day at art college. So, from that moment on, I became kind of just voracious about finding things out and discovering things and learning. Looking and learning. And as I looked and learned, I came across things which I found analogous to the moment.

So, my tempo, as I mentioned, had been fashion. So, the David Barry route and on, led me to fashion. The pulse feed I was following, in the ‘70s, was fashion. It was not design. I did not see things—I was not close enough to any leading edges of avant-garde design to be able to follow that. I was not close enough to art to follow that. The place where I sensed—where I sensed the pulse feed was fashion. It was fashion that, to me, was manifested in zeitgeist of the time.

Just checking things out.

Are you looking for something particular?

How much is this?

I don’t think this would fit you.

Well, I didn’t ask if it would fit. I asked how much it was.

How much is this, Marie?

It’s very expensive.

It’s very expensive.

Look, I’ve got money to spend in here.

I don’t think we have anything for you. You’re obviously in the wrong place.


…Sonic Youth, recently promoting their new album, Daydream Nation. Now, although the music press is definitely behind them, how do they feel the public at large perceives them?

I don’t know. For some reason, people seem to think we’re like these kind of like sex-death-rockers with three horns coming out of our heads or something like that. We’re just sort of like normal jerks from New York who just happen to play music. I don’t know. They read a lot into what we do as being very perverse and antagonistic, maybe. But it’s not that way, really. We’re actually very—kind of—pacifist people.

Would it be fair to say that you tend to deconstruct your songs and then build them up again to create your distinctive sound?

No, we don’t deconstruct, as a rule. I mean we’re basically very kind of anarchistic when we write and we just allow anything to happen, and then we’ll just sort of just modify it to what we think is good. I mean we’re interested in pop song structure, so, we’ll like do something that just you wouldn’t believe that could be used in a pop song structure, but we think it could be and it would be interesting to see something used that way. And we’ve done it and I think we’ve done it successfully.

Because you concentrate so heavily on noise in your music, it must provoke some strong reactions amongst certain sections of the audience.

Yeah, I suppose. I mean, Kim gets a lot of weird letters from like these weird boys—weird areas. I don’t know. We haven’t got anything too…freaked out.

Dried up flies.

Yeah, when we were in the studio making this new record, we got some letters, some fan letters. We were working at this studio board, this like million-dollar studio board, and I open this letter and like a big pocket of dried, crushed flies fell out onto the board, which wasn’t very nice. Things like that will happen as well. People think, “Well, Sonic Youth will really like this,” and they’ll send me some like ominous thing. It’s like…it’s kind of…


Good afternoon, everybody.

[Audience noise]

Wait a minute, good afternoon.

[Audience response]

Good afternoon.

Contrary to, I don’t even know if this is popular opinion, but contrary to the opinions of others, I don’t think I’m cool at all. I definitely didn’t grow up thinking I was cool. I was popular, but not because I was cool…probably because I had a certain amount of independence and self-confidence from a young age. That’s probably what made me cool because I always wore like funny clothes and kids were always like, “What does she have on? What is that? What are those shoes? Why’d you put those shoes with that shirt? That doesn’t match.” I’d go, “You know, it’s cool.”

And then three or four months later, they’d have it on. I said, “But wait a minute, you said that my shoes didn’t match my shirt.” They said, “Well, you know, you know…” So, I just—it’s so funny––every time I hear someone read, I guess, my résumé or the things that I’ve accomplished, I always sort of feel embarrassed because they’re really not my accomplishments to be proud of.

Behind this image is God. Before it, believers close their eyes. They do not need to go on looking at it. They know that it marks the place of meaning. Now, it belongs to no place and you can see such an icon in your home. The images come to you. You do not go to them. The days of pilgrimage are over. It is the image of the painting which travels now, just as the image of me, standing here, in this studio, travels to you and appears on your screen.

The meaning of a painting no longer resides in its unique painted surface, which it is only possible to see in one place at one time. Its meaning, or a large part of it, has become transmittable. It comes to you, this meaning, like the news of an event. It has become information, of a sort.

The faces of paintings become messages, pieces of information to be used, even used to persuade us to help purchase more of the originals, which these very reproductions have, in many ways, replaced. “But,” you may say, “Original paintings are still unique. They look different from how they look on the television screen or on postcards. Reproductions distort. Only a few facsimiles don’t.”

Advice for young artists and—I guess there’s a lot of advice I could give. I think the really important things to bear in mind are: focus on the work. If you make good work, you’ll probably be a successful artist. Don’t think about anything else. Just think about the work. Try and think about the project rather than the finished artwork. So, set yourself a project and focus on that and don’t think about the finished artwork. The artwork is the residue of a process of a project rather than something that you see and then have to realize thereafter.

Yeah, enjoy being an artist. Being an artist is the best life you can have, if you want to be an artist. It’s definitely not for everybody, that’s for sure. Being in the studio is not what everybody wants. It’s kind of what I want and what a lot of other people want. I really enjoy it. But it’s not for everybody. Sometimes you go to art school and you end up realizing you want to do something different. But it’s still sort of art—creative whether you’re a filmmaker or making music or whatever. You have to find your own way. So, don’t be afraid to figure it out.

I never had to compromise myself. It was always me doing what I thought was comfortable and relaying the message that I didn’t have to be taught to be creative and do good things. So, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m here and I want to be heard. I come from the streets. I painted on the subways and I feel my work is important. I want people to see it. I want to influence others.

You’re talking about stories in a very remote kind of society that’s quite different from ours because, surely, storytelling is much more diversified in the societies that we know. Parents tell stores to children. Children ask for stories. We experience the stories mediated through images as in television and movies. We read stories in print. I think that the most archaic definition of storytelling, it does tell us something about—we imagine where storytelling comes from, but it doesn’t tell us very much about what stories have become, I think, or what the challenge of storytelling is now.

When I was eighteen, nineteen—everybody’s getting a job. They’re getting into the eight-hour-a-day grind. Everybody’s doing it. You’re either a chemist, you’re a doctor, you’re a lawyer, you’re a shipping clerk, you’re a filmmaker, you’re a…cameraman. You’re doing some dumb thing over and over and over again. You get caught into the stricture of what you’re supposed to be and you have no other choice. You’re finally molded and melded into what you’re supposed to be.

I didn’t like this. And I didn’t like the eight-hour job. I didn’t even like the four-hour job, even though I couldn’t get one. So, I decided I’d rather starve and live on the edges of nowhere than do anything at all, than become anything labeled. So, for fifty years, I was a scarecrow unlabeled and now, I’m supposed to be a writer.

I think every sprinter that goes through this dying on the line—that moment is afraid of losing. That is always there. But the fear that is in the pit of the stomach is more of a nervous reaction than anything else. If it is not there, for me, that is the day that I might as well not run because there’s no adrenaline. When it’s there, I know that I’m on target, that I’m listening for that sound.

And I always had the worst start in the history of any sprinter because of my size and I was the tallest sprinter that ever came from the United States. My first thirty to forty-five yards, I was never in the race. So, I was always happy they didn't have thirty- and forty-yard races [laughs]. But the farther I ran, the faster I became. And I could always accelerate in the end. And that was the key to the successes of Wilma Rudolph. Never the start.

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