The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project #219: Zak Ferguson

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Zak Ferguson’s work is mental in the best possible sense of the word. His work is unsettling. He is a self-professed experimental writer (I am an experimentalist!) and you can see how he approaches each aleatory novel or book with its own rules, lucidity, and structures as with this new series of “interiors” that are underway. The logic of Ferguson’s work is one of expansion and collapse, putting forward a thread only to subtlety fold in or snap under, yet still felt in body and under skin.

I spoke with Zak about his new book, Interiors for ?, and the second installment Interiors for ? Mark ii, which was published only two weeks later. We also talked about wandering burnt-out buildings in the UK, the legacy of underground or zine culture, vaporwave, his autism, and his awakening as a writer.

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The Rumpus: I stumbled across your newest writing project Interiors for ?, and wasn’t really aware of the concept or idea of it. Can you talk a bit about this project, and the thinking behind it?

Zak Ferguson: Interiors for ? began as a whole other endeavor. To take images for a project. Maybe THE SYSTEM COMPENDIUM, or something else. So after and during photographing, I had this image percolating, not so much an image as an idea, that burned into that idea, where I needed to name a folder, to create one, where to place these images, to pick from—like a goodie box of images to use in experiments and to apply to certain pieces I am working on. Then this philosophy and appreciation for interiors, spaces, my relationship with the metaphysics, meta-contextual-textural-integrated notion—warped and took me over, wholly.

I needed a name, so I titled the folder Interiors for ? because that had been percolating inside my mind as I was taking the photos, too, and then this whole other plane of contemplation opened. Already spurred and accessed by having initially started upon this path of productivity, the images I had taken were taking on different resonances. The husk of a recently burned-down hotel in Eastbourne all of a sudden evolved, and was dislocated from this thing called reality, and took on a new meaning, relating to my art, relating to my procession of creativity.

The whole thing (the hotel) had fallen into itself, and only the outside, the walls, the façade, the foundations, the sides were remaining—it was wholly aesthetically and physically there in its exterior standings, its own physically embodied thing, but there was something supernal about it, too.

For me it was and still is about the spaces, the new being of this fucking burnt down building, and in segments, framed by its falling down, its eventual disintegration—the boring parts turned into anarchy-parts, the beautiful parts turned into textural-parts.

Rumpus: So, what are your plans for this project, and what is it about exactly?

Ferguson: I am planning on releasing four Interior books, from here on at the end of every week; whether it may be later, may be sooner, I have no clue, but I am enjoying myself because it is testing my skills as an artist, metaphysically, with pathways of contemplation and reflection and also my interrelationship with image-mockery, image-manipulation, my need to explore, embrace, extend, engorge my overall intentions, but in newer, for me, and far more innovative and puzzle-piece-experimental ways. My intention is to build on this work, because it has evolved, taken upon itself a whole new meaning. It is the first official release from my press, and it is an itch that needs to be scratched. To test. To push. To prove to myself.

What is it, exactly? I don’t fucking know, and I love that energy; it’s almost a synergy and cyclical thing that is issued forth from the ripples coming off my other works. Inside, outside of me, there is something cosmic happening here…

Rumpus: I was talking the other day about all this and about how it reminds me a bit of the glory days of zines and zine-making, but sort of like the next evolution of that sort of process. I grew up in places like Olympia and Seattle where a lot of that was going on and sort of in the air. What do you think of this?

Ferguson: That is very fucking cool. I have never been part of any zine, or publication that is circulated in a cool, underground, DIY way. I think that this can be bettered, considering how things are going, on a sadly commercial and capitalist level, by the accessibility of POD (print-on-demand) platform, if used well. But then as I think about this, I get agitated and the reality dawns, and that is—that it takes something away from what makes zines, well, zines… they’re printed, stapled, clustered, with art not approved but shoved in, because they need as much content as they could scurry together, collage, prose-poetry, rants, terrible advertisements for local businesses, where the time is nearly running out on the publication date they had set for themselves and told a fair few mates (greasy-haired, mascara-clad, with a few terribly ill-thought-out and self-applied tattoos)—who are willingly standing on the street corner from the “press” contemplating the jump from curb to road.

Rumpus: You mention this idea of underground, which makes me think of Baudrillard, who says: “You must create your underground, because now there’s no more underground, no more avant-garde, no more marginality. You can create your personal underground, your own black hole…”

What do you think of that?

Ferguson: Yes, we all must make our own underground, because there really is no avant-garde, no more room or spaces allowed for the people with the real rushing of blood keeping the actual heart of these creative movements alive any longer. But people creating zines, or chapbooks, or macro pamphlets, this reality, this place, that will never die, oh I so fucking hope it doesn’t, and telling those whose supposed positioning with these supposed wants to be DIY and so underground is truly all faux and disingenuous. But if it can be attenuated and captured in some minor way, that intent and well-intended motion is more than what most presses try to express and sell themselves off as.

Nothing will live up to the underground nature of pamphlets, and the only person I know of successfully doing this, using the POD platform, is Christopher Nosnibor at Clinicality Press. I love Christopher as a publisher, reviewer, and writer himself. His nonfiction really shaped my want to start writing, and is not as veined into experimental fiction, but perhaps into spreading experimental nonfiction.

Even though I may have been part of faux literary movements, all online, and only in existence in words, in boasting, and on the social media platforms these projects always live and ultimately die by—that try to capture that punk-rock-underground aesthetic, and in all honesty, in their failure, make it known that you just cannot capture that type of thing without experiencing it. So, no, I have never been part of it.

Rumpus: You talk about the idea of these small communities that exist online or these faux literary movements. That makes me think of some of the early intentions of vaporwave in music and its decentralized locale (online), the first entirely online music genre. Scott Beauchamp proposed that “vaporwave was the first musical genre to live its entire life from birth to death completely online.” So what is this shift?

Ferguson: Things are so gentrified, but it’s evolved beyond its originally assigned and processed meaning, the process of renovating and improving housing or district, yadder, yadder, yadder; its about labels, about being this thing, in name, but not in execution. And with this motion of application it is just a knock-off. Being this thing, so people gravitate, towards it. To try adding to it, but if it’s not truly the encapsulation to begin with, it’s just assigning its own fizzle/burn out.

Rumpus: I sort of think, what would’ve happened back then if we’d had access to this sort of immediacy with POD with zines or for similar projects. But as you’ve said, there’s now this desire for the physicality of the printed object as well or the sort of irony, if we want to think about vaporwave as an example again—all of this digital music that was produced and released online is now being rereleased on vinyl, the sort of uber-analogue holy grail. But is this POD also kind of brilliant in its potential?

Ferguson: Oh, it is brilliant. Really brilliant. For creative endeavors, to circulate art that usually, in the past, needed to be approved and were then made to wait. The POD platform has given freedom to people of great intentions, to get other artists, other experimentalists, innovators together and out there, to have their work out in the open, without a committee board judging it, editing it, breaking it down, and stating it is this, labelling it as that. I do not know of what platforms they use, but publication houses like Inside the Castle, headed by the genius John Trefrey, Dostoyevsky Wannabe by Richard Brammer and Victoria Brown, are doing things in literature that I wish to achieve. For the art. For the artist. For the love of making and creating books and content.

Though POD encourages a lot of amateurism and bad books by some people of whom shouldn’t write, there is no stopping that and nor should those people be stopped. POD is a great place to create careers, but also a great freedom to make presses, and through that and the books, fuck yeah, POD is a masterful ingenious and necessary platform and maybe a future scape where the best of artists end up creating—because you can either learn, grow from it, or be stuck in the same old rut from the beginning. You can put out there whatever the fuck you want as an artist.

But, it needs to be learned, not taught; it needs to be felt out. It needs to have a person with a mind to think outside the box, because those who think inside the box are dictated by the rules of Amazon, marketing on Facebook, which is an echo chamber, and so forth—those people are lost.

Rumpus: You mentioned it in passing a bit, but maybe you could mention your ideas about experimentalism or experimentalists briefly? What is its significance or what might it entail?

Ferguson: Being me. I feel everything I have spoken about is the encapsulation of what it means to be an experimentalist, such as my methods, my attitudes, also when paired with the reality of having autism. Autism allows one to be an experimentalist, whether they know it or not, to be a discoverer, whether they want it to or not. It’s a continual struggle—social niceties, social rules, and supposed law-governed rules of how to behave or come across—that is an experience born from an altered angle and perspective and a consciousness. That is something one tries to attain with their art: the experience, the mechanisms running the mind, the cerebral nature of those with autism. Autistic people are born creators and born experimentalists; it is how the “condition” dictates and such. Just pair with it and become one. It then will be a benefit and not a detriment.

Rumpus: Something else you’ve spoken a bit about in the past was how your autism relates to your process and viewpoint in your work. Does that relate to what you are doing with this new project?

Ferguson: It is my art. Autism is the product of my mind. My emotions. My personality. These are wholly dictated, controlled, steered, corrupted by my non-typical brain. Thus, it is heavily tied to me. Everything you read, experience, process, read, enjoy, hate, loathe, don’t quite get, appreciate, is part of my autism. Having autism is now a piece of Art itself. It is a hurt, an ache, as it affects my living situation societally, housing-wise, my processing and survival.

My work is a total obliteration of those emotions, a capturing of those odd moments, odd traits, odd-angled vistas from the way I look at the world, that gets the creative mind and accompanying imagination boiling over, and the autistic episodes and frustrations to my existence with this alternate way of thinking and feeling and living—sees me process, molecularly break it down, via experimentation, of prose, prose-imagery, imagery, short films. It is me. The full me.

Rumpus: I also know that you have been working on a new book, Art Is Autism. can you speak a bit about that?

Ferguson: It is a manifesto. A pseudo-memoir. Talking about my life with autism, and my coming into myself as both writer and reader. It is almost an experimentalist autistic (passionate) meltdown, full of rants, critiques, studies, emotional pleas. A wholly intimate portrayal of what writing and experimental and innovative fiction means to me.

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Photograph of Zak Ferguson by Laura Jane Marshall.


Jared Pappas-Kelley is the author of Solvent Form: Art and Destruction as well as the forthcoming Stalking America that asks us to fundamentally misunderstand America on the deepest level. His visual work has exhibited internationally at places such as San Francisco MoMA, Mass MoCA, Five Years in London, Islington Mill, and Glasgow International as part of the National Review of Live Art. More from this author →